UH Study Examines Lives of the Undocumented

Living undocumented has consequences for the entire family, according to a new study by the University of Houston's Graduate College of Social Work.

 Parenting is stressful enough in a traditional family context, but parents living in the United States without documentation status can experience additional challenges, researchers found.

The study found that these parents feel trapped, burdened by the constant threat of separation from their children and discouraged by how their undocumented status affects child well-being and family processes.

The study, led by UH assistant professor Jodi Berger Cardoso, found a ripple effect through the entire family unit. While previous research has explored the impact of immigration enforcement on the individual, this study examined perceptions of parenting, parenting practices and parental authority. The results of the study, “Parenting in the Context of Deportation Risk,” have been published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

“When we try to understand immigration and immigration policy, we need to be intentional and try to understand the consequences for everyone in the family system,” said Berger Cardoso.

About 5.1 million children in the U.S. live with at least one undocumented parent. That's about 7 percent of the entire U.S. child population.

“Combining normal parenting stress with the stress of living a very restricted and fear-driven life like living ‘in the shadows,’ adds a whole new component to what it means to be stressed as a parent. Unfortunately, we know very little about the long-term effects of immigration enforcement on parent and child well-being,” she said.

Roughly 79 percent of children born to undocumented parents are U.S. citizens. This challenging dynamic complicates parenthood for Latino parents. The study included interviews with 70 undocumented parents in two Southwest cities from 2012 to 2013. During that time, nearly one million individuals were deported from the United States.

Other researchers include Jennifer Scott, LSU; Monica Faulkner University of Texas at Austin; and Liza Barros Lane, UH.

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