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Open Access Publications from the University of California

U.S. citizen children, undocumented immigrant parents : how parental undocumented status affects citizen children's educational achievement


There are over 3 million U.S. citizen children being raised by undocumented immigrant parents, with little known about how these parents' undocumented status affects their children's educational achievement. This study seeks to understand how Mexican immigrant parents' undocumented status informs their U.S. citizen children's development of ethnic self-identity and how the expression of this ethnic identity justifies the adoption of behavior conducive or detrimental to educational success. Eleven U.S. citizen children from ten families headed by undocumented Mexican immigrants in San Diego County were interviewed between September 2006 and March 2007. Students answered a questionnaire, followed by a transcribed, qualitative interview. Students were asked to discuss their awareness of their parents' struggles as undocumented immigrants and to what extent those struggles were relevant to their own educational experiences. While is no direct relationship between parental undocumented status and U.S. citizen children's educational achievement, children tend to develop identities that identify with their parents' struggles. The behaviors that these identities permit vary, depending on a variety of family circumstances. Some families are better able to shelter their children from the effects of parental undocumented status, or able to shape how their children internalize the meaning of the parents' undocumented status, while parental undocumented status exacerbates already negative circumstances in other families. Yet all families headed by undocumented immigrants face the possibility of parental deportation, which has the potential to completely undermine the family's ability to raise educationally successful American citizen children to adulthood.

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