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Liminal Documentation

Liminal Documentation

Approximately one quarter of immigrants in the United States currently inhabit some form of (what sociologist Cecilia Menjivar has termed) “liminality.” While some are undocumented with little prospect of gaining a recognized status, many others reside in a grey zone. They may have recognized Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status. They may have applied for a more permanent status after entering the country on a temporary visa. Many are awaiting adjudication or federal immigration reform and have slipped out of a legally recognized status.

  • Unauthorized or undocumented is a term that refers to for­eign-born indi­vid­u­als who are neither are cit­i­zens nor have a recognized status. Some have entered the Unit­ed States with­out inspec­tion at the southern or northern border while others were legal­ly admit­ted on a tem­po­rary basis (e.g. tourist visa) but stayed beyond their required depar­ture date.
  • The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provides temporary (2 year renewable) administrative relief to eligible immigrants who came to the United States when they were children. DACA gives its recipients protection from deportation as well as a work permit. Since it was put in place in YEAR, DACA has faced a series of challenges in court. While it has been demonstrated that DACA has been highly beneficial, its recipients face uncertainty over DACA’s and their future status.
  • Mixed Status is not a legal designation but rather refers to a particularly precarious status of millions of children currently residing in the United States. These are citizen children who live in families who have one or more parents who are unauthorized. There are an estimated 4.9 million children live with an undocumented parent and almost a million more who reside with extended family members with precarious status.

This means that these children live in a constant state of fear that a caretaker could be deported at any given moment. Further, though the majority are citizen children, they often receive less access to consistent health care to which they are entitled as their parents do not want to either expose the family in the short-term to potential deportation nor do they wish to compromise future efforts to regularize the family.

Learn more

MPI Unauthorized Population Profile

MPI Aspen Serving Mixed Status Families

To understand liminal status, see:

  • Menjívar, C. (2006). Liminal legality: Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants' lives in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 111(4), 999-1037.

To understand the implication of growing up in the shadow of undocumented status, see:

  • Suárez-Orozco, C., Yoshikawa, H., Teranishi, R., & Suárez-Orozco, M. (2011). Growing up in the shadows: The developmental implications of unauthorized status. Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 438-473.
  • Yoshikawa, H., Suarez-Orozco, C. S., & Gonzales, R. G. (2017). Unauthorized status and youth development in the United States: Society for Research on Adolescence consensus statement. Journal of Research in Adolescence, 27, 4-19.
  • Castañeda, H. (2019). Borders of belonging : Struggle and solidarity in mixed-status immigrant families. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

To understand the developmental implication of mixed-status families, see: 

  • Rojas-Flores, L. (2017) Latino U.S.-citizen children of immigrants: A Generation at High Risk: Summary of Selected Young Scholars Program (YSP) Research. pp.1-22. Barajas‐Gonzalez, R., Ayón, C., & Torres, F. (2018). Applying a Community Violence Framework to Understand the Impact of Immigration Enforcement Threat on Latino Children. Social Policy Report, 31(3), 1-24.
  • Barajas-Gonzalez, Ayón, C., Brabeck, K., Rojas-Flores, L., & Valdez, C. R. (2021). An ecological expansion of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) framework to include threat and deprivation associated with U.S. immigration policies and enforcement practices: An examination of the Latinx immigrant experience. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 282, 114126–114126.

To understand the implications of family deportation, see:

  • Bouza, J., Camacho-Thompson, D. E., Carlo, G., Franco, X., Coll, C. G., Halgunseth, L. C., & White, R. M. B. (2018). The science is clear: Separating families has long-term damaging psychological and health consequences for children, families, and communities. Society for Research in Child Development, 20.
  • Dreby, J. (2012). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(4), 829-845.

To understand the experience of undocumented college students see:

  • Suárez-Orozco, C., Katsiaficas, D., Birchall, O., Alcantar, C. M., Hernandez, E., Garcia, Y., ... & Teranishi, R. T. (2015). Undocumented undergraduates on college campuses: Understanding their challenges and assets and what it takes to make an undocufriendly campus. Harvard Educational Review, 85(3), 427-463.

To consider ethical implications while conducting research with undocumented children and families,  see:

  • Hernández, M. G., Nguyen, J., Casanova, S., Suárez‐Orozco, C., & Saetermoe, C. L. (2013). Doing no harm and getting it right: Guidelines for ethical research with immigrant communities. New directions for child and adolescent development, 2013(141), 43-60.