There are now nearly four million children born in the United States who have undocumented immigrant parents. In the current debates around immigration reform, policymakers often view immigrants as an economic or labor market problem to be solved, but the issue has a very real human dimension. Immigrant parents without legal status are raising their citizen children under stressful work and financial conditions, with the constant threat of discovery and deportation that may narrow social contacts and limit participation in public programs that might benefit their children. Immigrants Raising Citizens offers a compelling description of the everyday experiences of these parents, their very young children, and the consequences these experiences have on their children’s development.
Immigrants Raising Citizens challenges conventional wisdom about undocumented immigrants, viewing them not as lawbreakers or victims, but as the parents of citizens whose adult productivity will be essential to the nation’s future. The book’s findings are based on data from a three-year study of 380 infants from Dominican, Mexican, Chinese, and African American families, which included in-depth interviews, in-home child assessments, and parent surveys. The book shows that undocumented parents share three sets of experiences that distinguish them from legal-status parents and may adversely influence their children’s development: avoidance of programs and authorities, isolated social networks, and poor work conditions. Fearing deportation, undocumented parents often avoid accessing valuable resources that could help their children’s development—such as access to public programs and agencies providing child care and food subsidies. At the same time, many of these parents are forced to interact with illegal entities such as smugglers or loan sharks out of financial necessity. Undocumented immigrants also tend to have fewer reliable social ties to assist with child care or share information on child-rearing. Compared to legal-status parents, undocumented parents experience significantly more exploitive work conditions, including long hours, inadequate pay and raises, few job benefits, and limited autonomy in job duties. These conditions can result in ongoing parental stress, economic hardship, and avoidance of center-based child care—which is directly correlated with early skill development in children. The result is poorly developed cognitive skills, recognizable in children as young as two years old, which can negatively impact their future school performance and, eventually, their job prospects.
Immigrants Raising Citizens has important implications for immigration policy, labor law enforcement, and the structure of community services for immigrant families. In addition to low income and educational levels, undocumented parents experience hardships due to their status that have potentially lifelong consequences for their children. With nothing less than the future contributions of these children at stake, the book presents a rigorous and sobering argument that the price for ignoring this reality may be too high to pay.
Using the words of the women themselves, Chaudry tells a startling story. Scarce subsidies, complicated bureaucracies, inflexible work schedules, and limited choices force families to piece together care arrangements that are often unstable, unreliable, inconvenient, and of limited quality. Because their wages are so low, these women are forced to rely on inexpensive caregivers who are often under-qualified to serve the developmental needs of their children. Even when these mothers find good, affordable care, it rarely lasts long because their volatile employment situations throw their needs into constant flux. The average woman in Chaudry’s sample had to find five different primary caregivers in her child’s first four years, while over a quarter of them needed seven or more in that time.
This book lets single, low-income mothers describe the childcare arrangements they desire and the ways that options available to them fail to meet even their most basic needs. As Chaudry tracks these women through erratic childcare spells, he reveals the strategies they employ, the tremendous costs they incur and the anxiety they face when trying to ensure that their children are given proper care.
Honest, powerful, and alarming, Putting Children First gives a fresh perspective on work and family for the disadvantaged. It infuses a human voice into the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of welfare reform, showing the flaws of a social policy based solely on personal responsibility without concurrent societal responsibility, and suggesting a better path for the future.
Carol Garhart Mooney has been an early childhood educator for more than forty years. She is also the author of Theories of Attachment, Use Your Words, and Swinging Pendulums.
Community psychologists have relied on multiple methods of obtaining data but more often, they have had to develop new methodologies or adapt existing ones. These innovative methods have been recorded in the American Journal of Community Psychology throughout the years of its history and have changed the way that researchers in the field have gathered data.
Making It Work examines Milwaukee’s New Hope program, an experiment testing the effectiveness of an anti-poverty initiative that provided health and child care subsidies, wage supplements, and other services to full-time low-wage workers. Employing parent surveys, teacher reports, child assessment measures, ethnographic studies, and state administrative records, Making It Work provides a detailed picture of how a mother’s work trajectory affects her, her family, and her children’s school performance, social behavior, and expectations for the future. Rashmita Mistry and Edward D. Lowe find that increases in a mother’s income were linked to higher school performance in her children. Without large financial worries, mothers gained extra confidence in their ability to parent, which translated into better test scores and higher teacher appraisals for their children. JoAnn Hsueh finds that the children of women with erratic work schedules and non-standard hours—conditions endemic to the low-skilled labor market—exhibited higher levels of anxiety and depression. Conversely, Noemi Enchautegui-de-Jesus, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, and Vonnie McLoyd discover that better job quality predicted lower levels of acting-out and withdrawal among children. Perhaps most surprisingly, Anna Gassman-Pines, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, and Sandra Nay note that as wages for these workers rose, so did their marriage rates, suggesting that those worried about family values should also be concerned with alleviating poverty in America.
It is too simplistic to say that parental work is either “good” or “bad” for children. Making It Work gives a nuanced view of how job quality, flexibility, and wages are of the utmost importance for the well-being of low-income parents and children.