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Immigration (Documentation) Statuses

Every nation has different ways of regulating immigration. In the United States, recognized immigration status can range from a range of temporary visas to naturalized citizens. In addition, approximately a quarter of immigrants are unauthorized.

The majority (88%) of immigrant-origin children are born in the U.S. and as such are U.S. citizens. An estimated 4.5 million live in mixed-status families which include one or more family members who are unauthorized. Of those, roughly 725,000 are in some sort of liminal status themselves–either with no authorization or with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Learn more

Mary C. Waters, Marisa Gerstein Pineau, Panel on the Integration of Immigrants Into American Society, & Committee on Population. (2015). The Integration of Immigrants into American Society. National Academies Press. pp. 66-7

Research, Education, and Action for Refugees (REACH) around the world

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.

UNHCR Refugee Report