Anti-immigrant rhetoric generated by the sociopolitical climate under the current presidential administration has exacerbated the fear of deportation and family separation, particularly within the undocumented Latinx community. Consequently, millions of families including U.S. citizen children living in mixed-status households are experiencing stressful environments as they adapt and respond to their social context. While the majority of the literature has focused on largely-populated immigrant cities, this study explored how harsh immigration discourse impacts mixed-status families living in a new-immigrant destination. This work also has important implications for furthering our understanding of how interactions between societal structures and the individual shape families’ lives.
The sample for this study derived from a longitudinal study with Latinx families living in southeast Michigan. To recruit participants for the main study, flyers in English and Spanish were posted in community centers, shopping malls, youth centers, and churches throughout the area. The additional criteria for the qualitative portion of the project was that parents had to be foreign-born. A subsample of twenty-two undocumented mothers of adolescents aged 14 to 17 participated in semi-structured interviews regarding their experiences as immigrants raising children in the U.S. These visits took place between December 2016 and July 2017, which was a time of increased vulnerability in the Latinx undocumented community. Thematic analysis of interview data was conducted by coding and analyzing the translated version of the files.
Team-based analysis revealed 2 main themes unearthed from parental experiences: 1) political system causes uncertainty and fear; and 2) heightened fear of deportation and family dissolution. Parents explained how they lived in fear since the elections took place: “...it’s completely different. It’s true that Obama also deported people but he was more human. If they arrested you at that time and you didn’t have a bad record they gave you a permit.” Parents also explained their thought process in considering the different scenarios they faced: “If they arrest me, where is my daughter going to stay? You have to have a paper, you have to leave a letter, if you have any properties you have to leave those documents with someone in your family. It makes you sad, it’s not easy.” Moreover, parents chose to minimize conversations around deportation to avoid additional stressors for children, while others addressed children’s concerns to placate their apprehension.
Conclusions and Implications:
These results provide important insights regarding the experiences of undocumented Latinx immigrant parents, a vulnerable and hard-to-reach population, in the context of socio-political adversity. Due to limited available resources for undocumented parents, social workers must leverage their networks to support families undergoing difficult transitions with special attention to altered family structures and parenting practices. Social workers and allied professionals must provide tools for these parents to effectively engage with their children to sustain healthy environments. Social workers also need to advocate for protection of undocumented immigrants’ rights, including but not limited to anti-discriminatory and socially just employment and law enforcement practices.