Immigrant Parents, Citizen Children: How Parental Immigration Status Affects Rhode Island Latino Children In School
FIG. 1 THE LATINO ACHIEVEMENT GAP IN RHODE ISLAND
Source: RI Kids Count (2015)2
The achievement gap between White and Latino students in Rhode Island, particularly in mathematics, is among the worst in the U.S.1 Latino children in Rhode Island are less likely to be proficient in reading and math than their White and Asian counterparts.2 Unfortunately, there has been limited progress in closing this gap over the past five years, and Latino students routinely perform two or three grade levels behind their White counterparts.3
While Latino students as a whole perform lower on key academic indicators, they are not a homogenous group, and many Latino students perform at or above grade level. However, we know little about what factors distinguish low-and high-achieving Latino students. Understanding key differences within the Latino student population will help to identify both the reasons for the achievement gap and opportunities for closing it. This study examines one key difference among Latino students – the immigration status of their parents – to understand how this variable influences academic performance.(a) The study explored the experiences of 178 urban Latino immigrant families in Rhode Island with 7 to 10-year-old, U.S.-born children.4 We investigated how families differ depending on the legal status of the parents and evaluated how these differences affect outcomes for the children.
a) In this study, participants were considered authorized immigrants if they had U.S. citizenship, Legal Permanent Resident (green card) status, or any type of visa authorizing them to reside or work in the U.S. Participants who had none of these were categorized as unauthorized.
FIG. 2 LATINOS AND UNAUTHORIZED IMMIGRANTS IN RHODE ISLAND
Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2015)12
THE VULNERABILITY OF THE MIXED-STATUS FAMILY
There are approximately 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S., and about one-third of them are raising a child who is a U.S. citizen.5 In 2010, about 4.5 million U.S. citizen children lived in “mixed-status families” comprised of at least one unauthorized parent, sometimes an unauthorized sibling, and a U.S.-born citizen child.6 Rhode Island is home to approximately 32,000 unauthorized immigrants, about 8,000 of whom are adults living with at least one U.S.-born child in a mixed-status family.5
Over twenty years of legislation have contributed to an increasingly challenging environment and vulnerable existence for unauthorized immigrants and their families in the U.S. The result is that children living in mixed-status families, although U.S. citizens, live under the threat of their parents’ deportation and within the constraints that their parents’ legal status creates.7 Between July 2010 and September 2012, nearly one-quarter of all people who were deported from the U.S. reported having at least one U.S.-born citizen child.8
In Rhode Island, the debate over immigration has shifted over the past decade toward a gentler approach to unauthorized immigrants. Unauthorized immigrant students in the state can now receive in-state college tuition, for example. Despite this trend, unauthorized immigrants in Rhode Island still face a number of challenges. They are ineligible for many social services and continue to live in fear of discovery and deportation.(b)
THE LINKS AMONG ETHNICITY, IMMIGRATION, AND EDUCATION
The achievement gap between Latino and White students in Rhode Island is of growing concern, and research at the national level has identified several factors that may help explain this gap. First, there is the parents’ language barrier. When parents don’t speak English or when they have had little schooling themselves, they have a limited ability to help their children with English language homework. Parental engagement in schools, which positively impacts student achievement, is also challenging for parents who face language barriers or who are fearful about their legal status.9
Language can also be a major issue for the children. Students for whom English is a second (or even third) language are less likely to be proficient in math and reading, be enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs, or graduate from high school, when compared with English-only learners.10
Then, there are socio-economic barriers. When parents are working long hours in order to make ends meet, which is often the case for low-income Latino and immigrant families, they have less time to cognitively stimulate their children at home and to supervise homework time.11 Low-income Latino children living in poor neighborhoods also have reduced access to community resources, such as museums and libraries, which might help them develop cognitively and academically. Latino children are also disproportionately represented in low-performing schools, which have fewer resources and less experienced, qualified teachers.12
Finally, there’s the issue of discrimination. Research has found that Latino children are often the victims of discrimination and stereotyping, even by well-meaning teachers who may underestimate their academic potential based on language, immigrant status, and skin color.13 These negative predictions can lead to lowered academic expectations, which can be internalized by the students. Moreover, these experiences can contribute to low levels of school engagement and a poor sense of school belonging among Latino students, both of which can affect academic performance.14
There is an additional factor that may account for academic challenges faced by some Latino students: parental legal status. A cloud of social exclusion surrounds unauthorized immigrants, keeping them from accessing social services, education, social activities, political participation, and a wide variety of jobs. This exclusion impacts U.S.-born children living in mixed-status families as well, creating not only a sense of stress and fear in the home, but also restricting children and their families from services that might benefit them.15
FEDERAL IMMIGRATION LEGISLATION, 1996-2014
- Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, 1996;
- Anti-terrorism Effective Death Penalty Act, 1996; and
- USA Patriot Act, 2001.Together, these laws expanded the range of offenses for which a person could be deported, restricted the range of judicial review available as a means of appealing a deportation, and increased funding for border security and immigration enforcement.
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), 2012.
This program provides relief from deportation for individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children and meet several criteria, but is not a path to regularization of status.
- Deferred Action to Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA, 2014).
This law would stay the deportations of unauthorized parents of U.S. citizen children but is currently blocked legislatively, following several states’ lawsuits claiming that the president acted outside his authority in issuing the Executive Order and a Texas judge’s decision to issue an injunction against the order. That injunction was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals 5th Circuit, and the matter will likely go to the Supreme Court.
Source: Hagan et al. (2011)24
b) Unauthorized immigrants are ineligible for most federally funded means-tested programs, such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Social Security Insurance (SSI).
COMPARISON OF STATE APPROACHES TO UNAUTHORIZED IMMIGRATION
Less hospitable Arizona has tried to legislate “attrition by enforcement,” which would have made it a crime to be in the state without papers and greatly expanded the authority of local and state police to enforce immigration policies.
More hospitable “sanctuary cities” like San Francisco don’t allow municipal funds to be used to enforce immigration policy, typically by prohibiting police and other municipal employees from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status.
FIG. 3 THE CHALLENGES FACED BY STUDENTS WITH UNAUTHORIZED PARENTS
Source: Martinez (2015)25
IMPORTANCE OF MIDDLE CHILDHOOD IN DEVELOPMENT
Middle childhood (ages 6-12) is a critical stage in children’s cognitive and social development.
Middle childhood milestones in cognitive and academic development:
- awareness of memory and learn- ing strategies
- achievement and consolidation of important academic skills, such as reading, writing, and computing
Middle childhood milestones in social development:
- increasingly seeking to find one’s place in a larger society
- engaging in social comparisons; iden- tifying ways in which families is similar and different to others
- marks the first time that all children are engaged with impor- tant settings outside their immediate family context (e.g., school), without their parents present
Source: Zembar et al. (2009)26
Unauthorized immigrant parents may be reluctant to access services for which their U.S. citizen children qualify because of a combination of fear, mistrust, and misinformation.16 For example, children of unauthorized parents may miss out on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides essential access to medical care, or Head Start, which can make a difference in the child’s school readiness, social emotional skills, and cognitive development. All of these factors – poverty, language barriers, social exclusion, and lack of access to social services – may affect children’s educational experiences. Research indicates that parents’ legal status can have an impact on their children’s academic achievement. Parents’ unauthorized status has been correlated to delays in children’s cognitive development as toddlers17 and school readiness as preschoolers.18
However, to date there has been no research examining the relationship between a parent’s legal status and academic outcomes for older children enrolled in school. Yet the elementary school years – the developmental stage of “middle childhood” – are a critical phase in child development.19 If immigrant children lag behind in academic achievement during middle childhood, it can have significant implications for their future.20
Fig 4. How Parental Immigration Status Impacts Children's Educational Experiences
Bean et al. (2011)23,Crosnoe et al. (2007)23,Yoshikawa (2011)16
Fig 5. Unauthorized Parents Face Economic Challenges
Brabeck et al. (in press, a)4
c) In this study, statistical significance means that the probability of finding a difference between groups this large based solely on error or chance is less than 1 in 100 (i.e., a p-value less than 0.01). All the differences reported here between families headed by authorized and unauthorized immigrant parents are statistically significant.
RESEARCH ON MIXED-STATUS FAMILIES IN RHODE ISLAND
For this study, 178 parent-child pairs were recruited from the three largest immigrant groups in Rhode Island: Dominican Republic, Central America, and Mexico. Among the participating families, 90 (51%) had a parent with some type of authorization, and 88 (49%) had an unauthorized parent respondent (due to ethical considerations, only the legal status of the participating parent was collected). All children in the study were native- born U.S. citizens.
Although low-income families living in poor and working-class urban neighborhoods tend to share certain struggles regardless of their immigration status, in our study distinct patterns emerged in families with an unauthorized parent. Unauthorized parents were statistically significantly younger and less educated than authorized parents.(c) They were more likely to speak Spanish in their homes and to prefer Spanish to English (although the children in the study overwhelming preferred to speak English or had no language preference, regardless of their parent’s legal status).
Unauthorized immigrants faced more challenges than their authorized counterparts before, during, and after immigration. Unauthorized parents experienced higher rates of poverty before they immigrated and were more likely to have experienced a traumatic event during their migration to the U.S. Upon entering the country, they reported having less support from family. Unlike in other studies of unauthorized adults, the unauthorized participants in this study were less likely to be employed than the authorized participants.
Although average monthly income did not differ between authorized and unauthorized adults in our study, parents with higher levels of legal vulnerability were more likely to experience job-related stress. That stress could result from working more jobs, under more stressful conditions, for less pay, or from fear of losing their jobs because of their legal status. Compared to authorized parents, unauthorized parents also experienced statistically significantly higher levels of stress related to ethnicity-based discrimination, English language learning, and legal status.
Fig 6. Unauthorized Parents Are Less Likely to Access Social Services
Brabeck et al. (in press, a)4
Overall, unauthorized parents were very unlikely to access social services for themselves. They were more willing and able to access services, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, for their children, but at lower rates than authorized parents. Unauthorized parents were also less likely than authorized parents to enroll their children in early childhood or preschool programs (e.g., Head Start), an important distinction given the well-established relationship between preschool participation and school readiness and success.21
d) Statistical control involves the use of statistical methods to reduce the effect of factors that could not be eliminated or controlled for during the study, and which may have a relationship with the dependent (outcome) variable. For example, we controlled for the effects of a child having a diagnosed learning disability because we know that learning disabilities have a clear relationship with academic achievement. By removing the effects of this variable, we can be confident that we are isolating the relationship between the independent variable of interest - parent legal status - and the dependent variable - child academic achievement.
Although one might assume that families under the kinds of stress created by legal vulnerability might also report higher levels of strain related to marital relationships, parenting, and the family, this research does not support that hypothesis. Families headed by unauthorized parents generally reported intact partnerships, parent-child relationships, and family processes. However, consistent with some previous findings,17 unauthorized parents did report having less practical support than authorized parents from their familial and social networks when it came to help with childcare, finding a job, or finances.
Over 90% of children in our study hold high expectations and high aspirations for their educational futures. At least one-third are fully bilingual, a major asset for cognitive development. Yet despite these promising findings, the children, particularly those from mixed-status families, still face a number of obstacles to academic success.
To examine the influence of parental immigration status on children’s educational outcomes, we statistically controlled for other variables that could account for differences in academic performance, including parent education, parent and child language preference, parent marital status, family income, and whether the child had been diagnosed with a learning disability.(d) After controlling for these variables, we analyzed children’s performance on a standardized academic assessment.
Fig 7. Unauthorized Parents Have Less Social Support
Brabeck et al. (in press, a)4
The children of unauthorized parents scored lower in math, word reading, sentence comprehension, and spelling than children of authorized parents. While over three-quarters of children of authorized parents are at or above grade level in word reading, less than half of children with an unauthorized parent are at that level. For sentence comprehension, the difference is even greater: over two-thirds of children of authorized parents, but only one-third of children with an unauthorized parent, scored at or above grade level. In both spelling and math, over 80% of children of authorized parents, but only 50% of children with an unauthorized parent, scored at or above grade level.
There are several factors that might explain the relationship between a parent’s legal status and their child’s academic outcomes. For example, when parents have to work longer hours or are more stressed from work, they may be less available at home to help with homework. If they have trouble learning English, parents may not be able to read school notices or participate in their children’s nightly assignments.
Fig 8. Children's Academic Outcomes are Influenced by their Parents' Immigration Status
Brabeck et al. (in press, b)4
e) This finding is likely related to differential access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, i.e., food stamps). While most families in the study accessed SNAP, the mixed-status families received SNAP only for their U.S. citizen children, since unauthorized family members are restricted from the program. Overall, the mixed-status families receive less food assistance than authorized parents who can access SNAP for all family members.
RESEARCH ON MIXED-STATUS FAMILIES IN RHODE ISLAND
In our study, higher rates of food scarcity among mixed-status families were found to “mediate” – that is, explain the relationship between – parent legal status and certain academic outcomes (sentence comprehension and spelling). This means that a parent’s unauthorized status makes a family less likely to have stable access to food, and it is this food scarcity (not simply the unauthorized status itself) that leads to the children having trouble with sentence comprehension and spelling.(e) Additionally, fearing deportation, experiencing discrimination, and encountering challenges to learning English were also mediators of the relationship between a parent’s legal status and their child’s academic performance.
This means that in mixed-status families with greater access to social services, children’s academic performance was less likely to suffer due to their parents’ unauthorized status. This finding suggests that social service use might act as a protective buffer, lessening the negative impact of parents’ unauthorized status on children’s academic achievement.
This finding suggests that policies or services that improve families’ access to food, lower the threat of discrimination and deportation, or remove barriers to learning English in mixed-status families might keep children from these families from falling behind their peers academically.
A potentially equally important finding is that access to social services is a “moderator” that can limit the negative effect of a parent’s unauthorized status on a child’s performance in at least two academic areas: spelling and word reading.
Fig 9. Relationship Between Access to Social Services and Academic Performance
Brabeck et al. (in press, a)4
f) Admittedly, school professionals face a conundrum in seeking to support children in mixed-status families. If they ask about parent legal status, they risk instilling fear and alienating the parent. If they do not ask, they may miss an important piece of information that sheds light on the child’s experiences. By building trusting relationships with families over time, parents may feel safe disclosing their status. School administrators can also make a point of communicating to the entire school community that parents of any legal status are safe and welcome there.
CLOSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP
At 14% percent of Rhode Island’s population, Latinos are a growing demographic, but not a homogenous one. Great variability exists within this population in terms of national origin and immigration status. Talking about the achievement gap between Latino and White students means little unless we can discern which specific factors enhance and impede success for Latino students, and which groups of Latino students are most affected. Because Latinos are a diverse group, a diverse set of responses must be developed and implemented to address their academic and social needs.
This study found that elementary school students with an unauthorized immigrant parent perform lower on standardized assessments of reading, math, and spelling than similar children of authorized immigrants. These findings call attention to the ways in which policies and practices aimed at unauthorized immigrants, and the pattern of social exclusion they create, have a negative impact on these immigrants’ U.S. citizen children. The findings are particularly troubling given the importance of early academic skills for children’s later success in school and career.
Specifically, our study provides evidence that the social marginalization that immigrant parents experience as a result of their unauthorized status – in the form of food scarcity, fear of deportation, discrimination, and English-language challenges – impacts their U.S.-born children’s academic performance. Importantly, social service use was found to moderate this relationship. This finding suggests that one potential way to close the achievement gap among Latino students may be to connect children of unauthorized immigrant parents with relevant social services.
Armed with an understanding of both the factors that connect parental immigration status with academic performance and those that might protect U.S.-born children from some of the negative impacts of a parent’s legal status, policymakers and schools can take steps to support these children. Finding ways to reduce the stigma of unauthorized status and enable access to social services is likely to deliver better academic outcomes for students of unauthorized immigrant parents.(f)
Closing the achievement gap between Latino and White students is important for both ethical reasons, as it helps fulfill society’s obligation to give every child true opportunity, and for economic reasons, in that today’s students are tomorrow’s workers, voters, community members, and leaders. Given the changing racial and ethnic demographics in Rhode Island, we cannot afford to leave behind our Latino students, particularly those who are most at risk – children from mixed-status families. Helping children requires looking beyond the individual child and considering how external and systemic factors like our immigration system shape that child’s chances for success.
Fig 10. How Central Falls Supports Mixed-Status Families
- Borg, Linda. (2014). “Study: Asian, Hispanic Youth Lag Nation.” The Providence Journal, March 31. Huguley, James P. (2013). Latino Students in Rhode Island: A Review of Local and National Performances. Latino Policy Institute, Roger Williams University.
- Rhode Island Kids Count. (2015). 2015 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook. Providence, RI.
- RI-CAN. (2014). The State of Rhode Island Public Education, 2014. Providence, RI.
- Brabeck, Kalina M., Erin Sibley, and M. Brinton Lykes. (In press, a). “Authorized and Unauthorized Immigrant Parents: The Impact of Legal Vulnerability on Family Contexts.” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences. Brabeck, Kalina M., Erin Sibley, Patricia Taubin and Angela Murcia. (In press, b). “The Influence of Immigrant Parent Legal Status on U.S.-born Children’s Academic Abilities: The Moderating Effects of Social Service Use.” Applied Developmental Science.
- Bachmeier, James and Jennifer Van Hook. (2014). Profile of the Unauthorized Population: United States. Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute.
- Taylor, Paul, Mark H. Lopez, Jeffrey Passel, and Seth Motel. (2011). Unauthorized Immigrants: Lengths of Residency, Patterns of Parenthood. Washington, D.C.: Pew Hispanic Center.
- Zayas, Luis. (2015). Forgotten Citizens: Deportation, Children, and the Making of American Exiles and Orphans. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- U.S. Immigrations Customs Enforcement Office of Immigration Statistics. (2013). 2012 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Suarez-Orozco, Carola, Hirokazu Yokishawa, Robert Teranishi, and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco. (2011). “Growing up in the Shadows: The Developmental Implications of Unauthorized Status.” Harvard Educational Review 81 (3): 438-472.
- Hernandez, Donald J. and Jeffrey S. Napierala (2012). Children in Immigrant Families: Essential to America’s Future. New York, NY: Foundation for Child Development.
- Kuperminc, Gabriel P., Adam J. Darnell, and Anabel Alvarez-Jimenez. (2008). “Parent Involvement in the Academic Adjustment of Latino Middle and High School Youth: Teacher Expectations and School Belonging as Mediators.” Journal of Adolescence 31: 469-483. Prelow, Hazel M. and Alexandra Loukas. (2003). “The Role of Resource, Protective, and Risk Factors on Academic Achievement-Related Outcomes of Disadvantaged Latino Youth.” Journal of Community Psychology 31: 513-529.
- Eamon, Mary K. (2005). “Social-Demographic, School, Neighborhood, and Parenting Influences on the Academic Achievement of Latino Young Adolescents.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 2: 163-174.
- Brown, Christina S. and Hui Chu. (2012). “Discrimination, Ethnic Identity, and Academic Outcomes of Mexican Immigrant Children: The Importance of School Context.” Child Development 83 (5): 1477-1485.
- De Garmo, David S. and Charles R. Martinez. (2006). “A Culturally Informed Model of Academic Well-Being for Latino Youth: The Importance of Discriminatory Experiences and Social Support.” Family Relations 55: 267-278. Perreira, Krista, Andrew Fuligni, and Stephanie Potchnick. (2010). “Fitting in: The Roles of Social Acceptance and Discrimination in Shaping the Academic Motivations of Latino Youth in the U.S. Southeast.” Journal of Social Issues 66 (1): 131-153.
- Capps, Randy, Michael Fix, Jennifer Van Hook, and James Bachmeier. (2013). A Demographic, Socioeconomic, and Health Coverage Profile of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute. Kalil, Ariel and Jen-Hao Chen. (2008). “Mothers’ Citizenship Status and Household Food Insecurity among Low-Income Children of Immigrants.” New Directions in Child and Adolescent Research 121: 43-62. Yoshikawa, Hirokazu. (2011). Immigrants raising citizens: Undocumented parents and their young children. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation. Suarez-Orozco et al. (2011).
- Viladrich, Anahi. (2012). “Beyond Welfare Reform: Reframing Undocumented Immigrants’ Entitlement to Health Care in the United States, a Critical Review.” Social Science & Medicine 74: 822-829.
- Yoshikawa (2011).
- Crosnoe, Robert. (2005). “Double Disadvantage or Signs of Resilience? The Elementary School Contexts of Children from Mexican Immigrant Families.” American Educational Research Journal 42(2): 269-303.
- Eccles, Jacquelynne S. (1999). “The development of children ages 6 to 14.” The Future of Children 9(2): 30-44.
- García Coll, Cynthia and Amy Marks. (2009). Immigrant Stories: Ethnicity and Academics in Middle Childhood. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Magnuson, Katherine A., Marcia K. Meyers, Christopher J. Ruhm, and Jane Waldfogel. (2004). “Inequality in Preschool Education and School Readiness.” American Educational Research Journal 41(1): 115-157.
- United States Census Bureau. (2015). State and County Quick Facts: Rhode Island. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.
- Bean, Frank D., Mark A. Leach, Susan K. Brown, James D. Bachmeier and John R. Hipp. (2011). “The Educational Legacy of Unauthorized Migration: Comparisons across Different U.S.-Immigrant Groups in How Parents’ Status Affects Their Offspring.” International Migration Review 45(2): 348-385. Crosnoe, Robert. (2007). “Early Child Care and the School Readiness of Children from Mexican Immigrant Families.” International Migration Review 41: 152–181.
- Hagan, Jacqueline, Nestor Rodriguez, and Bianca Castro (2011). “The Social Effects of Mass Deportations by the United States Government 2000-10.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 34 (8): 1374-1391.
- Martinez, Patricia. (2015). Interview by author, Central Falls, RI, October 16.
- Zembar, Mary Jo and Libby B. Blume. (2009). Middle Childhood Development: A Contextual Approach. Columbus, OH: Prentice Hall.
List original question here.
Type of Research
- Responds to questions of Policy Leaders with research projects that closely align with state priorities
- Provides implications for challenging state issues