Navigating Immigration Status as a family

Navegando Immigration Status en Familia

IIH Speaker Series Presentation

Sarah Rendon-Garcia

January 30, 2023


The Immigration Initiative Seminar was honored to welcome Dr. Sarah Rendon Garcia, a NSF Social, Behavioral, & Economic Sciences (SBE) and Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow.


Dr. Rendon Garcia presented her work around mixed-status families titled “Navegando Immigration Status en Familia.” Outlining the socio-political context during the beginning of her doctoral journey in 2015 and describing an interview she had with an undocumented mother, Dr. Rendon Garcia set the stage for how she began to think about her work. Essential to her research is the understanding of mixed-status families which Dr. Rendon Garcia defines as families in which members have varying immigration statuses, including undocumented and citizen status. Of the 11 million undocumented adults in the U.S. about 41% have at least one child under 15 years old, translating to nearly 8% of K-12 students in the U.S. having an undocumented immigrant parent. 


Seeking to learn about how individuals understand being undocumented or living in a family with someone who is undocumented through a developmental-contextual framework, Dr. Rendon Garcia conducted three studies focused on the caregiver, child, and child-caregiver perspectives of meaning-making. This specific presentation focused on the Child study in which 27 children, aged 7-15, from 19 mixed-status Latine families were interviewed to understand how they present their knowledge of immigration status and what contextual factors shape their meaning-making. Intentional data collection that included a book, video, narrative, and survey engaged children with the topic authentically but with care.


The following takeaway emerged from her data: 

  1. There is variation in children’s knowledge within and across families
  2. Most children are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of immigration status in the context of their family
  3. Developmental age range precedes family unit membership in determining a child’s knowledge


Based on her analyses, Dr. Sarah Rendon Garcia articulated two helpful heuristics she developed and which are visually represented below — children’s dimensions of immigration knowledge that illustrate the various ways children conceptualize immigration status and a continuum of immigration knowledge development


The dimensions of immigrant knowledge (see Figure 1 below) consist of knowledge of migration, knowledge of general concepts of undocumented status, and knowledge of their family member’s immigration statuses. 

Figure 1 

To address the variation in children, Dr. Rendon Garcia places their knowledge on a continuum (see Fig. 2 below) that helps determine where a child is in their development of knowledge of each dimension- absence of knowledge, emergent knowledge, situated knowledge, and critical knowledge. She found that there was higher representation of the youngest aged children (7-10 years old) in the “absence of knowledge” end of the continuum across all dimensions and higher representation of the older aged children (11-15 years old) in the “critical knowledge” stage of the continuum.


Figure. 2

The work of Dr. Rendon Garcia is powerful in the ways it actively includes the voices of children and has wider implications in the understanding of how youth make meaning of immigrant identities and how families socialize around the topic. The Immigration Initiative Seminar was delighted to learn about Dr. Sarah Rendon Garcia’s work. You can learn more about her work here:


To cite these images: Rendon Garcia, S.A. (2023). Navegando immigration status en familia

Nancy, age 3

Meet Nancy Palencia Ramírez!

Our IIH lab manager Nancy speaks on her childhood immigrant experience.


Dear Readers,


Welcome!  The Immigration Initiative at Harvard (IIH) is an interdisciplinary community focused on advancing evidence-based and equity-centered practice for the fastest-growing student population—immigrant-origin children and youth. We bring together scholars, students, practitioners, policymakers, and community leaders who seek to continuously better understand and best serve this population.


We strive to do so in a number of ways. Our website serves as a clearinghouse of information focused on translating evidence-based research to promising practices. Our Speaker Series brings scholars with important emerging findings addressing immigrant-origin children and youth. We have a vibrant community of pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellows who come together to work on a variety of research projects related to this population, meeting weekly in our IIH Seminar. We have a new Educator Brief series that succinctly summarizes what we think educators should know about a variety of topics in the field. In the Moving Stories Podcast, immigrant-origin young people reflect on the ways migration has shaped their lives and experiences. And, of course, we are always thinking of ways to contribute to research in this field.


To keep you informed on some of our activities and to introduce you to members of our community, the Immigration Initiative at Harvard team is now delighted to launch our new blog series. In the Speaker Series High Points, we will draw attention to recent speakers to IIH with attention to important take-home messages. In Hot of the Press blogs, we will summarize newly released reports, Educator Briefs, and findings we think readers may find of interest.  You can also expect Moving Stories ReCaps that will summarize key points to be considered from our Moving Stories Podcast. And in Meet the IIH Team, you will hear from team members to learn a little about who they are and what they are excited about in regard to work in this field.


We hope you enjoy the Blog series and that it will serve to connect you to our work!


With warmest regards,


Carola Suárez-Orozco

Director of the Immigration Initiative