This chapter lays out the three main arguments of the book: (1) that the construction of "illegality" for some members in a family influences opportunities and resources for all, including legal residents and U.S. citizens; (2) that people are not simply passive victims of this circumstance, but are resilient and creative, and mobilize to challenge its effects; and (3) that the incorporation experiences of mixed-status families are significantly framed by place, in this case the U.S.–Mexico border region. The chapter defines "mixed-status" families as those comprised of at least one undocumented member and at least one other person with any authorized legal status or transitional status. It also describes the study methods and outlines the chapters of the book.
This chapter examines how local context uniquely shapes pathways of incorporation and the everyday experiences of mixed-status families. Local configurations of laws, practices, and attitudes reflect how specific geographic settings provide unique mobilities, resources, opportunities, and disadvantages. Place matters. The chapter examines the geographic, cultural, and political landscape of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, which in some ways may be viewed as a pocket of inclusion because of its ethnic makeup, the dominance of the Spanish language, and its strong binational frame of reference. However, the historical marginalization and illegalization of Mexican migration through U.S. immigration laws provide an important backdrop for understanding the experience of illegality for families. This is strengthened by relentless and constant surveillance associated with the militarized border, including checkpoints that supplement and intensify interior enforcement.
This chapter examines the dynamics of mixed-status families, including shared norms, interpersonal tensions, and systems of mutual support. As legal status stratifies the household, creating divisions and even resentment, the central pattern is nonetheless family unity. Family relationships necessarily challenge simplistic distinctions between citizens and immigrants, and underscore the impossibility of assigning rigid juridical categories to entangled social lives. Juxtaposing the perspectives of various members within the same family illustrates how those experiences played out in complex ways. Mutual support is critical, and certain family members take on specific roles. Finally, the progress of the entire family and the social mobility of subsequent generations are viewed as linked to children's educational success.
This chapter turns outward to explore relationships between mixed-status families and others in their communities. Disclosure—that is, to whom, when, and why people talk about their own or their family's status—is a major concern, with both undocumented persons and U.S. citizens describing "little lies," acts of concealment, and feeling as if they must live a double life. Even close friendships and intimate romantic relationships are affected, as those in mixed-status families face difficulties adhering to normative expectations of dating and courtship. Disclosure is weighed against the possible repercussions, including stigmatization, discrimination, ridicule, and fear of denunciation by friends, lovers, neighbors, co-workers, and even other family members. Finally, the chapter explores empowered disclosure, or strategic "coming out" as undocumented, and its role in creating new identities and political subjectivities.
This chapter focuses on spatial restrictions to mobility, including the various checkpoints, the fear of driving that exposes people to apprehension, and the racialization of illegality and its effects on inspection practices. Legal status within the family becomes embodied as stratified forms of mobility. Many people are relegated to life within this small strip along the border, and describe feeling "trapped in a cage." The geographies of policing mobility in the border region are distinct by virtue of the constraints of the international border, the 100-mile buffer zone, and specific enforcement practices. Due to shifting legal terrains and requirements, a range of legal driving opportunities often coexist within a single family. For everyday driving practice and during inspection at one of the many checkpoints, racialization is a recurring theme. The chapter shows how fear, anxiety, and pressure are all part of the affective nature of the dynamic borderlands.
This chapter examines the social mobility of children who grow up in mixed-status families, including the barriers and secondary borders they encounter as they try to go to college, obtain jobs, and become independent. Early experiences in schools are generally inclusive and positive, but this shifts in high school and with the pressures of applying for and attending college. Youth living in the borderlands may be unable or unwilling to attend college in the nation's interior, past the Border Patrol checkpoints, including U.S. citizens who restrict themselves from moving away from undocumented family members, thus affecting their own social mobility. Financial barriers, discrimination, and feelings of alienation coexist alongside educational success in college. Rarely explored elsewhere has been young adults' desire to enlist in the U.S. military or Border Patrol; both are common career paths in this region with few alternative well-paying jobs.
Simply being part of a mixed-status family can result in poorer health and unequal access to care, creating hierarchies between individual family members. Health policies have multiple direct and indirect impacts specifically on these families, including their hesitancy to enroll citizen children in programs due to fear of deportation or to avoid jeopardizing chances of future regularization. As formal systems fail to meet the needs of a large segment of the population, alternative and informal channels of care proliferate, including illicit medications, unlicensed providers, and home treatments. Heavy border enforcement impacts mixed-status families when specialty care is required outside the region, as well as exacerbating stress and anxiety. Some families avoid enrolling eligible members in programs as notions of "deservingness" are internalized. This has a chilling effect that extends to U.S. citizens, meaning that they are discouraged from the exercise of their rights, a form of "multigenerational punishment."
This chapter examines family separation through deportation, illustrating how the detention and deportation of relatives shapes children's sense of security and well-being, and increases economic uncertainty in the household. The chapter follows several families whose members have experienced deportation, as well as the elaborate "emergency planning" measures they develop in case of family separation. This shifts household power dynamics, empowering citizen children in a complex micropolitical economy of deportability. Finally, the chapter explores how deported family members are brought back, reliant upon on ties in Mexico, connections to smugglers, and their ability to pay. Geographic context changes the landscape of deportability, making security much more precarious in the borderlands than in other parts of the United States.
Mixed-status families have an intimate relationship with the law, most evident when individuals undergo regularization, or "fix their papers." Law impacts family bonds in distinct ways, often shifting or reversing power relations between parents and children. It also empowers children, who finally feel they have agency and control over their family's destiny. The chapter also provides rich stories of DACA recipients in their transition from undocumented to "DACAmented," a status that was experienced as precarious and that solidified prior and produced new forms of inequality. For some, there are simply "dead ends" in the regularization process. Finally, for those who are successful in obtaining legal relief or status, another peril looms: jealousy, stratification, and hierarchies created within families and communities because others are left behind. The flip side is survivor's guilt; once people regularize their status, they avoid seeming boastful or fostering bitterness or resentment.
The book concludes with a reflection on the lessons learned from the 100 families in this book, arguing that political efforts toward reform or social integration must take into account mixed-status family configurations, since they are now a primary and enduring feature of the contemporary immigration experience in the United States. The book complicates the idea of living "in the shadows" as it is used in scholarly and popular discourse, instead portraying mixed-status families as resilient, socially engaged, and living as active members of their communities. Yet the daily lives of some 16.7 million people in mixed-status families are marked by uncertainty and exclusion. The chapter summarizes both the scholarly and policy implications of the themes presented in the book. Through a deeper understanding of their experiences, we can work toward policies that lift communities up rather than exacerbate inequalities.