Young Scholars Program

Latino US-Citizen Children of Immigrants: A Generation at High Risk

https://www.fcd-us.org/latino-us-citizen-children-immigrants-generation-high-risk/

Introduction.

In a new working paper, commissioned by the Foundation for Child Development. Dr. Lisseth Rojas-Flores highlights the work of scholars within the Foundation’s Young Scholars Program (YSP) related to Latino-U.S. citizen children of immigrants. Children of immigrants are growing up in a unique historical context in the United States — a time marked by aggressive immigration policies and practices. For over 10 years, studies conducted by YSP scholars have focused on the well-being of children of immigrants and their families.

This paper highlights the work of YSP scholars: Drs. Joanna Dreby, Kalina Brabeck, Cecilia Ayón, Christia Spears Brown, and Lisseth Rojas-Flores. Their research examines the impact of immigration enforcement practices and policies on Latino school-aged children within family units whose members have both authorized and unauthorized immigration status. Taken together, their work explores the assets and vulnerabilities of Latino children of immigrants. Further, this research has implications to improve policies to better address the best interests of Latino citizen children.

Protective factors or assets for Latino children of immigrants buffer children against the negative experience of parental detention or deportation.

Protective factors are resources or promotive processes that foster resilience and lessen the impact of adverse social environments on children[i]. The YSP scholars’ research outlined here reveals the clusters of protective and risk factors that impact the short- and long-term developmental outcomes of Latino children of immigrants. The findings underscore risk and resilience frameworks, which provide policymakers and service providers with well-defined targets for intervention and prevention.

Assets and Protective Factors for Latino Citizen Children Regardless of Parents’ Legal Status

YSP scholars have documented the following protective factors in relation to parent legal status:

  • Parent legal status. Latino children of authorized parents, in spite of overall economic challenges, fare significantly better in most domains of their lives compared to peers whose parents are unauthorized or affected by detention or deportation[ii].
  • Early care and education. Authorized parents accessed childcare subsidies and enrolled their children in means-tested early intervention programs such as Head Start and Universal Preschool[iii]. These center-based early education and care programs are known to set children of immigrants from low socioeconomic backgrounds on a successful academic trajectory[iv].
  • Service utilization. Latino families with authorized parents accessed government-subsidized jobs, social security, unemployment, welfare, and Medicaid benefits for adults and children in the family, including parents[v]. Research, in turn, demonstrates substantial positive benefits from a family’s use of social services, particularly for citizen children of immigrants[vi].

  • Despite unauthorized immigrants’ contributions to the overall economy and tax base, use of public services such as welfare benefits, including Medicaid, WIC, and food stamps, is overall lower among children and families of immigrants than families with US-born parents[vii].
  • Parent-child relationships. On measures of positive parent-child relationships, Latino families overall scored average or above average in multiple domains regardless of parents’ legal status[viii]. This is a cultural strength and protective factor of the Latino family, known to mitigate the ill effects that discrimination and other social exclusion processes pose for children of immigrants[ix].
  • Mental Health: Hyperactivity, aggression, or conduct problems. A study conducted on the West Coast found no differences in hyperactivity, aggression, or conduct problems as reported by parents among Latino children of unauthorized immigrants, regardless of whether or not families have experienced parental detention/deportation[x]. Similarly, an East Coast study reports that Latino citizen children of parents with unauthorized status were rated with having no hyperactivity problems[xi]

Risk factors or vulnerabilities such as fear, discrimination, and stigma lead to negative developmental outcomes for children regardless of parent legal status.

Risk Factors for Latino Citizen Children Regardless of Parental Legal Status 

Risk factors are individual, family, community, and society variables associated with circumstances of and processes of “vulnerability” that pose significant threats to the growing child[xii]. Consistent with a large body of research on risk and vulnerability, the risk factors identified by YSP research include processes that exacerbate child vulnerability and often lead to negative developmental outcomes. (See Figure 1 for summary lists of risk factors for the three groups).

The YSP research corroborates these risk factors and their cumulative effects:

  • Fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Worrisome, and with possible far-reaching effects on civic engagement, are the children’s expressed fears of ICE and conflation of ICE with the police[xiii].
  • Ethnic identity challenges. Many Latino citizen children view legal status as a stigma[xiv]. Citizen children’s perception of illegality and their conflation of being an immigrant with being unauthorized[xv] are a concern as children develop their own ethnic identities as citizens.
  • Discrimination. Anti-immigrant sentiments and mass immigration enforcement legislation have escalated over the past several years, leading to cumulative and detrimental effects of discrimination – evident in economic stress and social exclusion – on Latino mixed-status families in general, and on Latino citizen children in particular[xvi].

Citizen children of unauthorized Latino immigrants exhibit greater levels of anxiety and demonstrate lower reading, spelling, and math skills.

Risk Factors for Latino Citizen Children of Unauthorized Immigrants 

Emerging research demonstrates that unauthorized parental legal status is a strong predictor of poorer physical health[xvii], and particularly poor mental health and academic outcomes for Latino children[xviii]. Children of unauthorized immigrants are a particularly vulnerable population because they experience a distinct set of circumstances of vulnerability and life stressors, including misunderstandings about immigration (frequently associating immigration with illegality) and fears about family stability (for self and family members)[xix].

  • Mental health: Anxiety. Citizen children of parents with precarious legal status were rated by their parents and by children’s own report as exhibiting higher levels of anxiety than children whose parents were authorized[xx].
  • Academic achievement. Parents’ unauthorized status is a significant predictor of children’s poor performance in reading comprehension, math, and spelling during middle childhood[xxi].
  • Service utilization. Unauthorized immigrants under-utilized most public means-tested services, even when their citizen children qualified for these programs[xxii] and when they do, it is for social services that benefit their children[xxiii] or when specific medical needs arise[xxiv].

Children of detained/deported parents who experience forced parent-child separations have higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Risk Factors for Latino Children of Detained or Deported Families

Parents are fundamental for the well-being of children. YSP research identified children of parents who have been affected by immigration enforcement through deportation or detention which places children at higher risk with a distinct set of incremental risk factors and life stressors associated with the loss of a parent (note the red oval that depicts this subgroup in Figure 1).

  • Mental health: Children of detained/deported parents were rated with higher levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms than their peers[xxv].
  • Internalizing problems over time. Higher levels of depression, extreme anxiety about physical symptoms such as pain or fatigue, and lower psychological and academic functioning were found among children affected by parental detention/deportation when compared to children whose parents were not detained/deported or were legal permanent residents[xxvi].
  • Externalizing problems over time. Children of detained/deported parents had more behavior problems, as reported by teachers, and school behavior problems, as reported by clinicians, than did children of authorized, legal permanent residents[xxvii].
  • Changes in father-child bonds. Given the gender differences of current deportation trends, the losses resulting from prolonged or permanent separation from one’s father often erodes Latino father-child bonds[xxviii], further impacting children’s emotional well-being.
  • Economic instability. Dramatic instability results when a two-parent home becomes a single-mother home and the mother unexpectedly becomes the sole breadwinner overnight – becoming “suddenly single mothers”[xxix].
  • Housing insecurity and related food insecurity set in motion a range of short-term and long-term difficulties for these children, ranging from disruption in child care to abrupt school and neighborhood relocations[xxx].
  • Academic achievement and service utilization. Children of detained and/or deported parents were rated by clinicians and teachers as exhibiting higher rates of poor academic functioning, including learning problems, when compared to children of parents with stable legal status in the United States (legal permanent residents)[xxxi]. There is a gap in the health service utilization literature with regard to citizen children’s use of services following the detention or deportation of a parent[xxxii].

Local, state, and federal policies related to economic, educational, health, social, and psychological well-being affect Latino-U.S. citizen children.

Policy Recommendations

Whether or not one agrees with the ethics or legality of the ways in which citizen children of unauthorized parents have become citizens — these children are U.S. citizens with all the rights and need for care of any other vulnerable citizen children. The following points propose an actionable agenda and alternative policy options that more effectively address the best interests of Latino citizen children in a less harmful manner.

Social Services Accessibility and Utilization

  • Address disparities in accessibility, enrollment, and utilization of means-tested social services

Immigration Enforcement Policies and Practices

  • Reduce unnecessary detainment and associated prolonged parent-child separation
  • Revise deportation legislation and practices in favor of maintaining family units
  • Revise enforcement apprehension/arrest procedures to reduce exposure to children
  • Revise federal legislation to provide permanent legal status and/or a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized parents

Creation of Supportive Communities around Children of Immigrants

  • Supporting parents and families through interventions designed to address the specific needs of families who experienced the loss of a parent/spouse through detention/deportation or are in fear of such a loss
  • Supporting teachers and early interventionists through training and education to be responsive to the needs of children and families who experienced the loss of a parent/spouse through detention/deportation or are in fear of such a loss

About the author.

Lisseth Rojas-Flores, Ph.D. is a former Young Scholar from 2012-2015. Dr. Rojas-Flores is an associate professor in the Department of Marriage and Family of the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary.

Full report.

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References.

[i] Rutter, M. (1979). Protective factors in children’s responses to stress and disadvantage. In M. W. Kent & J. E. Rolf (Eds.), Primary prevention of psychopathology: Social competence in children (Vol. 3, pp. 49 – 74). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.; Masten, A. S. (2011). Resilience in children threatened by extreme adversity: Frameworks for research, practice and translational synergy. Developmental Psychopathology, 23, 141 – 54.

[ii] Brabeck, K. M., Sibley, E., & Lykes, M. B. (2016). Authorized and unauthorized immigrant parents: The impact of legal vulnerability on family contexts. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 38, 3 – 30. doi:10.1177/0739986315621741; Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M., Hwang, K. J., & London, J. (2017). Trauma, psychological distress and parental immigration status: Latino citizen-children and the threat of deportation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9, 352 – 361. dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​t​r​a​0​0​0​0​177

[iii] Brabeck, K. M., Sibley, E., Taubin, P., & Murcia, A. (2016). The influence of immigrant parent legal status on U.S.-born children’s academic abilities: The moderating effects of social service use. Applied Developmental Science, 20, 237 – 249. doi:10.1080/10888691.2015.1114420

[iv] Votruba-Drzal, E., Coley, R. L., Collins, M., & Miller, P. (2015). Center-based preschool and school readiness skills of children from immigrant families. Early Education and Development, 26(4), 549 – 573. doi:10.1080/10409289.2015.1000220

[v] Brabeck, K. M., Sibley, E., Taubin, P., & Murcia, A. (2016). The influence of immigrant parent legal status on U.S.-born children’s academic abilities: The moderating effects of social service use. Applied Developmental Science, 20, 237 – 249. doi:10.1080/10888691.2015.1114420

[vi] Seiber, E. E. (2013). Which states enroll their Medicaid eligible, citizen children with immigrant parents? Health Services Research, 48, 519 – 538. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6773.2012.01467.x; Yoshikawa, H., Godfrey, E. B., & Rivera, A. C. (2008). Access to institutional resources as a measure of social exclusion: Relations with family process and cognitive development in the context of immigration. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 121, 63 – 86. doi:10.1002/cd.223

[vii] Gee, L. C., Gardner, M., Hill, M. E., & Wiehe, M. (2017). Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Retrieved from https://​itep​.org/​u​n​d​o​c​u​m​e​n​t​e​d​-​i​m​m​i​g​r​a​n​t​s​-​s​t​a​t​e​-​l​o​c​a​l​-​t​a​x​-​c​o​n​t​r​i​b​u​t​i​o​n​s​-2/; Capps, R., Koball, H., Campetella, A., Perreira, K., Hooker, S., & Pedroza, J. M. (2015). Implications of immigration enforcement activities for the well-being of children in immigrant families. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.

[viii] Brabeck, K. M., & Sibley, E. (2016). Immigrant parent legal status, parent-child relationships, and child social emotional well-being: A middle childhood perspective. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 1155 – 1167. doi:10.1007/s10826-015-0314-4

[ix] Brabeck, K. M., & Xu, Q. (2010). The impact of detention and deportation on Latino immigrant children and families: A quantitative exploration. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 32, 341 – 361. doi:10.1177/0739986310374053; Perreira, K. M., Kiang, L., & Potochnick, S. (2013). Ethnic discrimination: Identifying and intervening in its effects on the education of immigrant children. In E. Grigorenko (Ed.) Handbook of U.S. immigration and education. New York, NY: Springer.

[x] Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M., Hwang, K. J., & London, J. (2017). Trauma, psychological distress and parental immigration status: Latino citizen-children and the threat of deportation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9, 352 – 361. dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​t​r​a​0​0​0​0​177

[xi] Brabeck, K. M., & Sibley, E. (2016). Immigrant parent legal status, parent-child relationships, and child social emotional well-being: A middle childhood perspective. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 1155 – 1167. doi:10.1007/s10826-015-0314-4

[xii] Masten, A. S. (2011). Resilience in children threatened by extreme adversity: Frameworks for research, practice and translational synergy. Developmental Psychopathology, 23, 141 – 54.

[xiii] Dreby, J. (2012a). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 829 – 845. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00989.x; Dreby, J. (2012b). How Today’s Immigration Enforcement Policies Impact Children, Families, and Communities. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://​www​.americanprogress​.org/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2​0​1​2​/​0​8​/​D​r​e​b​y​I​m​m​i​g​r​a​t​i​o​n​F​a​m​i​l​i​e​s​F​I​N​A​L​.​pdf; Rojas-Flores, L., Nunes, M., Hwang, K. J., & Zalvana, C. (2017). “La Migra” is another word in Spanish for “la Policia”: Latino children’s perceptions of citizenship and immigration enforcement. Manuscript in preparation.

[xiv] Dreby, J. (2015). Everyday illegal: When policies undermine immigrant families. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

[xv] Dreby, J. (2015). Everyday illegal: When policies undermine immigrant families. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.;   Dreby, J. (2012a). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 829 – 845. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00989.x; Dreby, J. (2012b). How Today’s Immigration Enforcement Policies Impact Children, Families, and Communities. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://​www​.americanprogress​.org/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2​0​1​2​/​0​8​/​D​r​e​b​y​I​m​m​i​g​r​a​t​i​o​n​F​a​m​i​l​i​e​s​F​I​N​A​L​.pd; Ayón, C. (2015). The economic, social and health effects of discrimination on Latino immigrant families. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://​bit​.ly/​1​E​Q​y​k8F

[xvi] Ayón, C. (2015). The economic, social and health effects of discrimination on Latino immigrant families. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://​bit​.ly/​1​E​Q​y​k8F; Spears, C. B. (2015). The educational, psychological and social impact of discrimination on the immigrant child. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://​bit​.ly/​1​F​3​y​Bzw

[xvii] Vargas, E. D., & Ybarra, V. D. (2016). U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents: The link between state immigration policy and the health of Latino children. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s10903-016-0463-6

[xviii] Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M., Hwang, K. J., & London, J. (2017). Trauma, psychological distress and parental immigration status: Latino citizen-children and the threat of deportation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9, 352 – 361. dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​t​r​a​0​0​0​0​177; Brabeck, K. M., Sibley, E., Taubin, P., & Murcia, A. (2016). The influence of immigrant parent legal status on U.S.-born children’s academic abilities: The moderating effects of social service use. Applied Developmental Science, 20, 237 – 249. doi:10.1080/10888691.2015.1114420

[xix] Dreby, J. (2012a). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 829 – 845. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00989.x; Dreby, J. (2012b). How Today’s Immigration Enforcement Policies Impact Children, Families, and Communities. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://​www​.americanprogress​.org/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2​0​1​2​/​0​8​/​D​r​e​b​y​I​m​m​i​g​r​a​t​i​o​n​F​a​m​i​l​i​e​s​F​I​N​A​L​.​pdf

[xx] Brabeck, K. M., & Sibley, E. (2016). Immigrant parent legal status, parent-child relationships, and child social emotional well-being: A middle childhood perspective. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 1155 – 1167. doi:10.1007/s10826-015-0314-4; Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M., Hwang, K. J., & London, J. (2017). Trauma, psychological distress and parental immigration status: Latino citizen-children and the threat of deportation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9, 352 – 361. dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​t​r​a​0​0​0​0​177

[xxi] Brabeck, K. M., Sibley, E., Taubin, P., & Murcia, A. (2016). The influence of immigrant parent legal status on U.S.-born children’s academic abilities: The moderating effects of social service use. Applied Developmental Science, 20, 237 – 249. doi:10.1080/10888691.2015.1114420

[xxii] Brabeck, K. M., Sibley, E., & Lykes, M. B. (2016). Authorized and unauthorized immigrant parents: The impact of legal vulnerability on family contexts. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 38, 3 – 30. doi:10.1177/0739986315621741; Ayón, C. (2014). Service needs among Latino immigrant families: Implications for social work practice. Social Work, 59, 13 – 23.

[xxiii] Brabeck, K. M., Sibley, E., Taubin, P., & Murcia, A. (2016). The influence of immigrant parent legal status on U.S.-born children’s academic abilities: The moderating effects of social service use. Applied Developmental Science, 20, 237 – 249. doi:10.1080/10888691.2015.1114420

[xxiv] Capps, R., Koball, H., Campetella, A., Perreira, K., Hooker, S., & Pedroza, J. M. (2015). Implications of immigration enforcement activities for the well-being of children in immigrant families. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.; *Rojas-Flores, L., Grams-Benitez, L., Hwang, K. J., & Clements, M. (2017). Latino citizen children and the threat of parental deportation: Mental health, life events, and service utilization across time. Manuscript in preparation.

[xxv] Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M., Hwang, K. J., & London, J. (2017). Trauma, psychological distress and parental immigration status: Latino citizen-children and the threat of deportation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9, 352 – 361. dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​t​r​a​0​0​0​0​177

[xxvi] Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M., Hwang, K. J., & London, J. (2017). Trauma, psychological distress and parental immigration status: Latino citizen-children and the threat of deportation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9, 352 – 361. dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​t​r​a​0​0​0​0​177

[xxvii] *Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M., Hwang, K. J., & London, J. (2017). Trauma, psychological distress and parental immigration status: Latino citizen-children and the threat of deportation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9, 352 – 361. dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​t​r​a​0​0​0​0​177

[xxviii] Dreby, J. (2012a). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 829 – 845. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00989.x

[xxix] Dreby, J. (2012a). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 829 – 845. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00989.x; Dreby, J. (2015). Everyday illegal: When policies undermine immigrant families. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

[xxx] Dreby, J. (2012a). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 829 – 845. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00989.x; Dreby, J. (2012b). How Today’s Immigration Enforcement Policies Impact Children, Families, and Communities. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://​www​.americanprogress​.org/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2​0​1​2​/​0​8​/​D​r​e​b​y​I​m​m​i​g​r​a​t​i​o​n​F​a​m​i​l​i​e​s​F​I​N​A​L​.​pdf; Dreby, J. (2015). Everyday illegal: When policies undermine immigrant families. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

[xxxi] Mechure, M., & Rojas-Flores, L. (2017). Parental Immigrant Status and Latino Citizen Children’s Academic Functioning. Paper presentation at the IVAT’s 22nd International Summit on Violence, Abuse and Trauma Summit. San Diego, CA.

[xxxii] Capps, R., Koball, H., Campetella, A., Perreira, K., Hooker, S., & Pedroza, J. M. (2015). Implications of immigration enforcement activities for the well-being of children in immigrant families. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.