Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Immigrants Raising Citizens

Immigrants Raising Citizens: Undocumented Parents and Their Children

Hirokazu Yoshikawa
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Immigrants Raising Citizens
    Book Description:

    There are now nearly four million children born in the United States who have undocumented immigrant parents. In the current debates around immigration reform, policymakers often view immigrants as an economic or labor market problem to be solved, but the issue has a very real human dimension. Immigrant parents without legal status are raising their citizen children under stressful work and financial conditions, with the constant threat of discovery and deportation that may narrow social contacts and limit participation in public programs that might benefit their children. Immigrants Raising Citizens offers a compelling description of the everyday experiences of these parents, their very young children, and the consequences these experiences have on their children’s development. Immigrants Raising Citizens challenges conventional wisdom about undocumented immigrants, viewing them not as lawbreakers or victims, but as the parents of citizens whose adult productivity will be essential to the nation’s future. The book’s findings are based on data from a three-year study of 380 infants from Dominican, Mexican, Chinese, and African American families, which included in-depth interviews, in-home child assessments, and parent surveys. The book shows that undocumented parents share three sets of experiences that distinguish them from legal-status parents and may adversely influence their children’s development: avoidance of programs and authorities, isolated social networks, and poor work conditions. Fearing deportation, undocumented parents often avoid accessing valuable resources that could help their children’s development—such as access to public programs and agencies providing child care and food subsidies. At the same time, many of these parents are forced to interact with illegal entities such as smugglers or loan sharks out of financial necessity. Undocumented immigrants also tend to have fewer reliable social ties to assist with child care or share information on child-rearing. Compared to legal-status parents, undocumented parents experience significantly more exploitive work conditions, including long hours, inadequate pay and raises, few job benefits, and limited autonomy in job duties. These conditions can result in ongoing parental stress, economic hardship, and avoidance of center-based child care—which is directly correlated with early skill development in children. The result is poorly developed cognitive skills, recognizable in children as young as two years old, which can negatively impact their future school performance and, eventually, their job prospects. Immigrants Raising Citizens has important implications for immigration policy, labor law enforcement, and the structure of community services for immigrant families. In addition to low income and educational levels, undocumented parents experience hardships due to their status that have potentially lifelong consequences for their children. With nothing less than the future contributions of these children at stake, the book presents a rigorous and sobering argument that the price for ignoring this reality may be too high to pay.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-707-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Emiliana, Elena, and Ling Raise Citizens in New York City
    (pp. 1-27)

    The A train links lives across the city of New York. It has done this for nearly a century. In the 1930s, Billy Strayhorn named his new composition, ″Take the A Train,″ after directions that Duke Ellington had given him to his home in Harlem. At that time the subway line carried New Yorkers from Harlem to eastern Brooklyn. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the line had been extended up past Harlem to Washington Heights, down the full length of Manhattan Island, and over to the farthest southeastern corner of Queens.

    On July 18, 2005, if you were...

  6. Chapter 2 The Hidden Face of New York: Undocumented Immigrant Parents’ Routes to the City
    (pp. 28-51)

    In 1647, there were already eighteen languages being spoken on the narrow streets of the fledgling settlement of New Amsterdam at the southern end of Manhattan Island.¹ In the 1850s, when Walt Whitman, the great sage and bard of New York City, wrote ″Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,″ he saw throngs of immigrants, from the newest group—Irish escaping the Great Hunger of the 1840s—to Germans, English, and forced migrant African slaves as well as free African Americans, making their way to work from Fulton Street in Brooklyn to Fulton Street in Manhattan from his vantage point on the ferry. By...

  7. Chapter 3 Life Under the Radar: Legal and Illegal Authorities and Public Programs
    (pp. 52-69)

    Adelina, a Mexican mother with an infant son, was talking with her field-worker about public programs in the United States that help children. ″I tell you, I have very little information, since I don′t deal with a lot of people from here.″ She knew about Medicaid and WIC, because hospital social workers had signed her up for these programs during prenatal care. She knew that she herself had access to care only during and right after pregnancies, while her son Federico had full medical coverage. Adelina had heard about welfare from one friend, an older Dominican woman with grown children....

  8. Chapter 4 Documentation Status and Social Ties: Households, Networks, and Organizations in the Lives of Undocumented Parents and Their Children
    (pp. 70-96)

    In the United States, we take for granted our access to institutions and resources that help children and families. These include features of everyday family life such as public libraries, neighborhood and civic organizations, banks, and parks, as well as forms of identification that provide access to some of these, such as driver′s licenses or other photo identification. These resources offer families financial flexibility, freedom to travel, and an array of programs and enrichment activities for young children. In addition, parents rely on more informal networks such as extended family or friends for important information that concerns their children, such...

  9. Chapter 5 The Worst Jobs in Urban America: Undocumented Working Parents in the New York Economy
    (pp. 97-119)

    A good-paying job with opportunities for wage growth and advancement over time sits at the heart of the American dream. Such a job trajectory embodies hopes for one′s own future and the future of one′s children. For low-income parents, jobs characterized by stability and wage growth over time are in fact linked to more positive cognitive and behavioral development among their children.¹ Undocumented workers, however, fill jobs that are another rung below the typical urban low-wage job held by some U.S. citizens. The undocumented are overrepresented in the lowest-skilled jobs in the country. Despite representing about 6 percent of the...

  10. Chapter 6 How Parents’ Undocumented Status Matters for Children’s Early Learning
    (pp. 120-136)

    How does having a parent who is undocumented affect a child′s early development? In May 2010, the first ladies of the United States and Mexico were visiting a second-grade classroom in Silver Spring, Maryland. A session was caught on video in which children asked a variety of questions of Michelle Obama. One worried Latina girl raised her hand and talked about her mother. ″My mom said, I think, she says that Barack Obama′s taking everybody away that doesn′t have papers.″ Obama, taken aback, replied, ″Yeah, well, that′s something we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can...

  11. Chapter 7 Providing Access to the American Dream for the Children of Undocumented Parents
    (pp. 137-150)

    Early childhood is an especially important time to ensure that children have access to supports for their learning. The first years of life are foundational to the development of later skills. Cognition and learning as early as the first three years of life are associated with later school readiness, achievement, and even later earnings.¹ As the economist James Heckman has posited, early skills beget later skills.² Because the skills that children learn at each stage in their development build on those established in earlier stages, public investment in early childhood skills brings about larger economic benefits than supports later in...

  12. Appendix Overview of Study Design and Methods
    (pp. 151-164)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 165-172)
  14. References
    (pp. 173-188)
  15. Index
    (pp. 189-196)