How Undocumented Status Shapes Parenting

Cardoso, J. B., Scott, J. L., Faulkner, M., & Lane, L. B. (2018). Parenting in the context of deportation risk. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80, 301-316.

Approximately seven percent of children in the United States live with at least one undocumented parent. Cardoso and colleagues (2018) conducted semi-structured interviews with undocumented adults in Texas between 2012 and 2013 to better understand how undocumented status shapes parenting behaviors. Several common experiences were identified in these interviews. First, parents reported that everyday tasks, such as taking children to school, were perceived as high risk. The authors note the particular difficulty of children’s activities that require travel in states with limited public transportation and laws that prohibit undocumented individuals from obtaining a driver’s license. Second, the fear of family separation through detention or deportation was a significant source of stress, fear, and despair for parents and children. More than one quarter of parents reported that they had not disclosed their undocumented status to their children in order to protect them from such reactions. Those who had disclosed to their children reported reactions such as nightmares and anxiety over brief separations, such as a parent’s trip to the grocery store. Third, family dynamics were altered by parents’ undocumented status. For example, parents reported a sense of powerlessness in responding to their children’s behavioral problems. The fact that children could resist parental discipline by reporting them to the police meant that misbehavior was often under-addressed. At the same time children often assumed increased responsibility in the family such as language brokering and monitoring parents’ behavior to avoid unwanted attention from authorities. Finally, the authors note that the current situation for undocumented parents is more challenging than when they conducted these interviews given laws mandating that local law enforcement agencies cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Making Connections

Family dynamics

Media Supplement

Journalist Duarte Geraldino’s TED Talk discusses the consequences of deportation. (3 min 53 sec)

This APA video addresses the experiences of undocumented youth and students in the U.S.. (11 min 15 sec)