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  • Borders of Belonging: Struggle and Solidarity in Mixed Status Immigrant Families by Heidi Castañeda
  • Joanna Dreby
Borders of Belonging: Struggle and Solidarity in Mixed Status Immigrant Families
By Heidi Castañeda
Stanford University Press, 2019, 280 pages.

In 2001, Michael Fix and Wendy Zimmerman popularized the term mixed status families in their article "All under One Roof" published in the International Migration Review. The authors used census data to estimate the prevalence–at the time nearly 1 in 10—of immigrant origin families in which parents and children did not share legal statuses. Over the past two decades, the term has permeated the language of scholars and activists, among others. Recently, Pew Research Center estimates suggest a remarkable 1 in 23 families in the United States are mixed-status, containing unauthorized members. U.S. immigration law has crystalized in such a way that it is nearly impossible for many to legalize even if they have lived here for years and have U.S. citizens in their families.

What is it like to perpetually live in a mixed-status family in the twenty-first century United States? Heide Castañeda's book draws us into a world navigated by siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, some who are unauthorized, others with the provisional status provided by DACA and some who are U.S. citizens. Drawing on meticulous ethnographic interviews with various members of families in the Rio Grande Valley, Castañeda tells a fascinating story, nuanced and attentive to the specifics of the geographic region of "the Valley."

A recurring metaphor in conceptualizing the impacts of U.S. immigration policy is that of the rippling effects: numerous intended and unintended consequences shape the lives of unauthorized migrants, legal migrants and U.S. citizens alike. Mimicking this metaphor, the chapters of this beautifully written book unfold in concentric circles. Castañeda starts within the family unit by discussing the ways navigating legal status shapes relationships, particularly between siblings with varying statuses, and the ensuing effects on familial roles and responsibilities. Family tensions—and jealousies—unfold and yet, Castañeda argues, "illegality touches the entire family unit," and most interviewed view the mixed-status family situation as a source of unity, like U.S. born Jessica quoted saying, "well, I do feel undocumented too, just because I live with them. So everything that they go through I go through."

Subsequent chapters move outwards, covering the ways the stresses and solidarities of growing up in a mixed status family work beyond the confines of family relationships: in disclosing family status to friends, neighbors and potential partners, in navigating the geographic immobility of the borderlands, in determining work and educational pathways and in health care and deportation related trauma.

The result is a story in which family members often feel equally impacted. Castañeda finds, for example, that regardless of individual legal status, members of mixed status families engage in active concealment of status and discomfort about how status affects dating and marriage. All describe spatial containment, and health related trauma resulting from deportability, and "denounce-ability" impacts all members. Yet, the benefits of citizenship and legal status ultimately differentiate. Those in a family with status can legally work, join the armed forces and have health insurance. Unauthorized members cannot. Families respond to these inequalities creatively; for example, some strategically obtain extra medication, when possible, or utilize resources in Mexico to cover, at least partially, some of the health care needs of unauthorized members.

Although attentive to the tension between unity and inequality, at times the accounts blur together in ways that may overstate members' experiences of solidarity. This is perhaps not surprising given the reliance on interview data. Family members may prefer to highlight the positives; this is a healthy coping mechanism. However, examples in the book suggest that the intersections of legal status with phenotype, gender, sexuality, age, birth order and state of origin in Mexico may additionally differentiate experiences. For example, Castañeda observes that some avoid geographic immobility if they have a "phenotypic passport" that makes them look U.S. born. Future research should be especially attentive to how social...


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