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Immigrants Raising Citizens

Undocumented Parents and Their Children

Hirokazu Yoshikawa

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

About the Author

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

This book is the product of years of collaboration and support. When Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, Niobe Way, Diane Hughes, and I were funded by the National Science Foundation to start two longitudinal studies of child and youth development in New York City, we envisioned...

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1. Emiliana, Elena, and Ling Raise Citizens in New York City

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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...

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2. The Hidden Face of New York: Undocumented Immigrant Parents’ Routes to the City

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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...

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3. Life Under the Radar: Legal and Illegal Authorities and Public Programs

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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...

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4. Documentation Status and Social Ties: Households, Networks, and Organizations in the Lives of Undocumented Parents and Their Children

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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...

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5. The Worst Jobs in Urban America: Undocumented Working Parents in the New York Economy

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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...

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6. How Parents’ Undocumented Status Matters for Children’s Early Learning

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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...

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7. Providing Access to the American Dream for the Children of Undocumented Parents

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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...

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Appendix: Overview of Study Design and Methods

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pp. 151-164

All the data reported in this book are drawn from the early childhood studies of the Center for Research on Culture, Development, and Education. Data from two phases of the study were included: a first pilot qualitative study...


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pp. 165-172


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pp. 173-187


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pp. 189-196

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447072
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871549860

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 808337194
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Immigrants Raising Citizens

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Illegal aliens -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions.
  • Illegal aliens -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Children of immigrants -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions.
  • Children of immigrants -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Immigrant children -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions.
  • Immigrant children -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
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