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Ties that Bind: Immigration and Immigrant Families

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Immigration to the United States is largely a family affair, and will remain so for the probable future, regardless of the reforms and restrictions that may make their way through the legislative process in Congress. The family is a “strategic research site” for understanding the dynamics of immigration flows (legal and illegal) and of immigrant adaptation processes, as well as their long - term consequences for both sending and especially receiving countries such as the United States. Kinship is also central to understanding U.S. immigration policies - marriage and close family ties are the basis for longstanding selection criteria built into U.S. immigration law. To varying degrees of closeness, millions of immigrants in the U.S. today, plus millions more of their U.S. - born offspring, are embedded in often intricate webs of family ties, both here and abroad. They form extraordinary transnational linkages and networks that can, by reducing the costs and risks of migration, expand and serve as a conduit to additional and thus potentially self - perpetuating migration. Such chaining processes lead to remarkably dense ethnic concentrations in U.S. cities, consisting of entire community segments from places of origin. The import of immigrant family connections goes far beyond their functions for chain or circular migration and local support. Remittances sent by immigrants to family members back home link communities across national borders and are vital to the economies of many sending countries. That embeddedness in family, in a web of primary ties of affection, trust, and obligation, is at once a rich resource and a potential vulnerability. Family ties are a source of both positive and negative "social capital", i.e., a resource that inheres not in the individual but in social (familial) relationships that can cut both ways, enabling as well as constraining particular outcomes. Especially among immigrant families moving from one sociocultural environment to another, role dissonance in rapidly changing marital and parent - child relationships can intensify conflicts and lead to family breakdown. Immigrant families come in all shapes and must confront dramatically different contexts of adaptation. To make sense of the diversity of immigrant families we need to begin with the recognition that it makes no sense to speak of a singular immigrant family experience. This study, based on both national and regional data, examines the effects of migration on family outcomes over time, looking selectively at some contemporary patterns of immigrant family structure, change, and conflict, and at the effect of family characteristics and contexts on the educational attainment and aspirations of their children, both those who came at an early age and those who were born in the U.S. of immigrant parents.

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