Latino/a Citizen Children of Undocumented Parents Negotiating Illegality

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Journal of Marriage and Family

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Objective: The objective of this study is to examine how citizen young adults with undocumented parents manage parental illegality. Background: These citizen young adults are part of mixed‐status families, which consist of members with different immigration statuses and often include U.S. citizen and undocumented immigrant family members. With 16 million people in mixed‐status families, scholars are beginning to capture their unique experiences, but little is known about the adult‐age citizen children in these families. Method: Data for this study include interviews with 34 Latino/a citizen young adults ages 18 to 28. Interviews were analyzed by using the sociological concepts of legal violence and multigenerational punishment. Results: The findings demonstrate that young adults are somewhat shielded from parental deportation concerns because of less sustained contact with parents and because of the perception that parents are cautious. Young adults also manage illegality when they apply for federal college financial aid and navigate the possibility of sponsoring their immigrant parents for legalization. Young adults' legal access to wage labor also entails distinct responsibilities to participate in family breadwinning. Conclusion: This research demonstrates how parental undocumented status shapes family negotiations and state‐produced punishments for adult citizen children previously unaccounted for in immigration and family scholarship. These findings point to the distinct challenges of citizen young adults—experiences that differ from undocumented peers, the children of lawfully present parents, and minor children in mixed‐status families.


Emerging adulthood; Family dynamics; Hispanic/Latino/a; Immigrants; Immigration; Intergenerational relationships


Community-Based Research



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