Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'Deportation pyramid' illustrates effects of deportation on children



Source: "The Burden of Deportation on Children in Mexican Immigrant Families," Journal of Marriage and Family, August 2012


The Journal of Marriage and Family has a fascinating new article on the effects of deportation on kids. The author, sociologist Joanna Dreby of New York's University of Albany, presents what's titled a "deportation pyramid," something she describes as similar to an "injury pyramid" used by public health professionals, to illustrate how children experience deportation and the threat of it.

The weight goes beyond actual removal of immigrant parents to the fear of it occurring, Dreby writes. While the dissolution of families tops the pyramid, the threat of deportation leaves some children with misunderstandings about immigration, associating it with illegality even when status is not discussed in the family, in some cases even keeping their immigrant background a secret from peers.

Dreby also points to a clear difference in the effect on children of family separations that are voluntary - such as parents choosing to separate - versus involuntary separations resulting from a parent's removal from the country. From the article:

Forced separations of family members are different from those in which family members choose to live apart. In the case of the former, the intervention of the state in family life is clear. In addition, parents’ ability to provide for their families after deportation is limited. Parents have no choice regarding their returns; narratives of sacrifice common among parents in transnational families are likely to differ. Nonetheless, the comparison reveals useful themes for analysis.

First, one can expect that family structure matters during forced separations. When families choose to separate, men and women play different roles in their families depending on who has left home and who remains behind. The Department of Homeland Security does not release information on deportees’ gender, yet research has found that the majority of deportees are male (Golash-Boza, 2011; Kohli, Markowitz, & Chavez, 2011). What happens to families when men are more frequently forcibly removed than women? As with voluntary transnational families, who leaves and who stays behind is likely to shape experiences of forced separation.

Second, deportation policies are likely to affect child well-being. A report by the Urban Institute found numerous changes in behavior among children whose parents were detained or deported as reported by their families, including increased frequency of crying, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, clingy behavior, an increase in fear and anxiety, and generic fears of law enforcement officials (Chaudry et al., 2010).


The author concentrated on Mexican immigrant families, drawing on existing data and interviewing families in Ohio and New Jersey. The entire article can be downloaded here.

(Via ImmigrationProf Blog)