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Current Issue

Summer 2011

Books: Immigrants Raising Citizens: Undocumented Parents and Their Young Children

Immigrants Raising Citizens Book CoverRoughly 4 million children born in the United States are being raised by undocumented immigrant parents. Policymakers often consider these immigrants to be an economic or labor market problem to be solved, but few take into account the human side of the issue. For example, these parents are struggling to raise their children in the midst of financial difficulties and stressful work environments. The constant threat of discovery and deportation limits their social contacts and participation in public programs that could benefit their children’s health, social interactions, and academic life. In Immigrants Raising Citizens, Ed School Professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa offers a compelling argument that the harsh experiences of these immigrant parents may have lifelong consequences for their children.

Rather than focus on undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers or victims, Yoshikawa chooses to study their role as the primary caretakers of citizens whose adult productivity — critical to our nation’s future — largely depends on their childhood experiences. The book presents findings based on data from a three-year study of 380 infants from Mexican, Dominican, Chinese, and African American families, which includes comprehensive interviews, inhome child assessments, and parent surveys.

Yoshikawa discovered that, in an effort to remain anonymous, undocumented parents regularly avoid interactions with civic officials who could offer resources to their children such as childcare or food subsidies. For the same reason, they often have fewer social ties, and many experience significantly more exploitive work conditions. As a result, long hours, low pay, and miniscule job benefits can result in constant stress, heightened risk of disease, and less energy to cognitively engage their children at home. These children subsequently lack in early skill development, which can negatively affect their school performance and future job prospects.

With the future contributions of these young citizens at stake, Immigrants Raising Citizens is a timely study with far-reaching implications for immigration policy, labor law enforcement, and the organization of family-oriented public programming.