Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Relational Legal Consciousness of U.S. Citizenship: Privilege, Responsibility, Guilt, and Love in Latino Mixed-Status Families

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Relational Legal Consciousness of U.S. Citizenship: Privilege, Responsibility, Guilt, and Love in Latino Mixed-Status Families

Article excerpt

urrently, over 4 million children under age 18 are U.S. citizens living in what are known as mixed-status families-with at least one undocumented parent. Legally, the U.S. Constitution procures their citizenship;1 substantively, however, they are likely to suffer a series of developmental and educational setbacks resulting from obstacles that target their undocumented parents (Capps et al. 2016; Dreby 2015; Suarez-Orozco et al. 2011; Yoshikawa 2011). A few studies examine the legal consciousness of undocumented immigrants (Abrego 2008, 2011, 2018; Menjívar and Lakhani 2016), but we know significantly less about how their U.S. citizen relatives understand and employ their juridical category. Based on findings that arose from a study initially focused primarily on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients,2 this article examines the legal consciousness of citizen members of mixedstatus families through a relational approach that I argue best captures how substantive citizenship is socially produced within families.

Through its laws and practices, the state misleadingly represents itself as producer and arbiter of normative citizenship, with equal rights for all citizens (Brandzel 2016). The experiences of U.S. citizen children in mixed-status families, however, reveal that much like for other members of marginalized groups, substantive citizenship is contested and unequal. In practice, citizenship has always intersected with race, gender, class, sexuality, disability, and other markers of social location to determine the contours of the lived realities of citizenship (Erevelles 2011; Fox 2012; Glenn 2010; Luibheid 2002). Indeed, legal citizenship was initially only available to one intersectional category: white male property owners (FitzGerald and Cook-Martin 2014; Garcia 1995; Gordon and Lenhardt 2007). Women and people of color have since gained greater legal inclusion, though citizenship arguably still means different levels of access and privilege by identity markers. What is distinct about mixed-status families is that the family unit must navigate resources and barriers unevenly within its members based on stratified legal categories (Abrego 2016). Examining their experiences brings into relief that citizenship intersects not only with an individual's social location, but also with the legal statuses of their family members. The current immigration regime blocks undocumented and temporarily protected immigrants from key educational, employment, and social service opportunities, making it difficult for immigrants and their families to thrive, even when one or some members are U.S. citizens (Menjivar et al. 2016).

I am particularly interested in the legal consciousness-the common sense understandings of the law (Merry 1990)-of U.S. citizen young adults who grew up in mixed-status families. Participants' narratives of citizenship as guilt, responsibility, and privilege reveal that legal consciousness about citizenship status is centrally and relationally developed through key mechanisms within the family. These include navigating unrealistic aspirations from relatives, maintaining silence about undocumented family members' legal status, managing their fear of family separation through deportation, and taking on financial and logistical responsibilities prematurely to help relatives. While U.S. citizens' interactions with the state (Bloemraad 2018), neighbors, police officers, fellow students, teachers, and strangers relationally provide them with information about the meaning of their citizenship in different spaces, the deeply rooted relationships with loved ones most powerfully determine how they make sense of their juridical category.

Immigration Law and Immigrants' Legal Consciousness

In the contemporary moment, international migration to the United States is marked by punitive immigration laws that, when combined with a hostile sociopolitical climate, produce a criminalized state of illegality-the condition of undocumented immigrants' legal status and deportability (De Genova 2002; Menjívar and Kanstroom 2013)-for over 11 million people (Krogstad et al. …

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