Harvard Educational Review
  1. Immigrants Raising Citizens

    Undocumented Parents and Their Young Children

    Hirokazu Yoshikawa

    New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2011. 196 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).

    Immigrants Raising Citizens begins on the A train, a popular rail line that weaves through much of New York City and the communities of the immigrants in Hirokazu Yoshikawa’s new book. In addition to riding the same train, these immigrants share similar aspirations of a better life for themselves and their children. For many, a range of factors will influence the trajectory and attainment of these aspirations, but Yoshikawa examines an overlooked mediator: the legal status of immigrant parents.

    The national debate on immigration policy often views undocumented immigrants as law breakers and low-skilled labor, but many are also parents of U.S.-born citizens who share the same legal rights as their documented counterparts. In fact, nearly four million children have been born in the United States to undocumented parents. Yoshikawa explores this paradox of undocumented parents raising U.S. citizens and how parental legal status may affect the development of children above and beyond the effects of commonly cited factors like low parental education and poverty. The author frames the early childhood development and the education of these children as an issue of national interest, not only in terms of equity but also as an important investment in the country’s economic and social prosperity.

    The opening scene on the A train sets up a similar methodological journey to unravel the effects of undocumented parental status on U.S.-born children. It brings together a theoretical and empirical narrative supported by ethnographic and quantitative data. The longitudinal study is ongoing, but the book is based on data from a birth cohort of 380 infants from African American, Chinese, Dominican, and Mexican families followed through age three. In addition to data from parent surveys and child assessments, field researchers conducted interviews and participant observations with an in-depth sample of twenty-three families at fourteen-, twenty-four-, and thirty-six-month time points, providing a detailed perspective into the lives of documented and undocumented immigrants. Although participants in the in-depth sample were open about their documentation status to field researchers, the surveys could not ask about documentation directly. The robustness of the quantitative findings thus depends on the researchers’ use of a proxy for documentation—access to resources requiring identification, such as a driver’s license or bank account.

    Immigrants Raising Citizens shows that parental documentation status harms children’s cognitive development by affecting parents’ perception of legal authorities and social programs, limiting their social networks, and restricting their work conditions. Yoshikawa finds differences in children’s cognitive outcomes—such as early language, motor, and perceptual skills—depending on whether they have documented or undocumented parents at twenty-four months, due primarily to greater economic hardship and psychological distress that affects undocumented parents’ interaction with their children. The trend continues at thirty-six months, but the key mediators are the poor work conditions of undocumented parents and, more importantly, the low use of center-based child care. Indeed, Yoshikawa frames the disparities in child cognitive outcomes in terms of access to learning opportunities, where undocumented parents, fearful of authorities and the stigma of social services, often choose not to enroll their eligible children in center-based care. Given the impact of poor work conditions due to documentation status, Yoshikawa argues in the final chapter for a transition to legal residency for undocumented parents and for better labor laws and unionization. The author also urges community-based organizations to play a larger role in building trust among undocumented parents, which can facilitate a stronger understanding of social programs for their children.

    Yoshikawa found several differences across immigrant ethnic groups. Among the more unexpected findings, Yoshikawa learned that a majority of the Chinese parents sent their infants back to China to be raised by grandparents. The long work hours and unusually high cost of paying smugglers to enter the United States, especially compared to other immigrant groups, persuaded Chinese parents to make this cost-saving decision. In terms of other differences across ethnic groups, Yoshikawa found that parent expenditures on books and toys were unrelated to cognitive outcomes. Yet, there was one area where the author found similarity where it was not expected: there were no differences in behavioral outcomes, such as antisocial or cooperative behavior, between children of documented and undocumented parents. Yoshikawa might have explored this finding further, given the different home environments and family-child interactions illustrated in the ethnographic data.

    Despite the research nature of Immigrants Raising Citizens, readers will enjoy how the findings in each chapter add to a layered story of both documented and undocumented families living in the United States. The vignettes of participants and descriptions of different communities in New York City contribute to the novel-like quality of the book. Clear charts help the reader understand the more empirical sections, while the main method of analysis, structural equation modeling, is explained in terms of general trends in the findings. The strong prose adds to this unique narrative on undocumented parents raising citizens, one that Yoshikawa frames in terms of the legal rights of children and their future contributions to society. Unfortunately, the author avoids more recent discussions on immigrant children who are not U.S. citizens living in the country. While writing about this topic opens up more difficult conversations about immigration policy, if the focus is on potential contributions to society, the developmental needs of all children—documented and undocumented—demand similar attention and care.
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    Abstracts

    Immigration, Youth, and Education
    Editors’ Introduction
    Soojin S. Oh and North Cooc
    The Power of Context
    State-Level Policies and Politics and the Educational Performance of the Children of Immigrants in the United States
    Alexandra Filindra, David Blanding, and Cynthia Garcia Coll
    Growing Up in the Shadows
    The Developmental Implications of Unauthorized Status
    Carola Suárez-Orozco, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Robert T. Teranishi, and Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco
    “Because We Feel the Pressure and We Also Feel the Support”
    Examining the Educational Success of Undocumented Immigrant Latina/o Students
    LAURA E. ENRIQUEZ
    Things I’ll Never Say
    Stories of Growing Up Undocumented in the United States
    INGRID HERNANDEZ, FERMÍN MENDOZA, MARIO LIO, JIRAYUT LATTHI, and CATHERINE EUSEBIO Educators for Fair Consideration
    Undocumented to Hyperdocumented
    A Jornada of Protection, Papers, and PhD Status
    AURORA CHANG
    Whose Deficit Is This Anyhow?
    Exploring Counter-Stories of Somali Bantu Refugees’ Experiences in “Doing School”
    LAURA A. ROY and KEVIN C. ROXAS
    Toward a Pedagogy of Acompañamiento
    Mexican Migrant Youth Writing from the Underside of Modernity
    ENRIQUE SEPÚLVEDA III
    Elementary Forms of Cosmopolitanism
    Blood, Birth, and Bodies in Immigrant New York City
    Maria Kromidas

    Book Notes

    Immigrants Raising Citizens
    Hirokazu Yoshikawa

    Balancing Acts
    Natasha K. Warikoo