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The Trails and Triumphs of US-Dwelling, Mixed-Status Latino Families

First Posted: Jun 25, 2015 02:42 PM EDT
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Scarcity of jobs, childcare assistance and food are just some of the challenges mixed-immigration-status Latino families encounter. Nonetheless, these families manage to create bonds, exceed education expectations, and profit from valuable bilingual communication skills despite adversity.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2010, there were 4.5 million U.S.-born children from mixed-status families, and the Migration Policy Institute estimates that roughly 11 million unauthorized individuals live in the United States.

"Strength in Adversity: A Study of 179 Latino Families in Rhode Island," an infographic released by the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, shows statistics based on responses communicated by mixed-status families of Rhode Island who hail from Dominican Republic, Mexico and Central America with U.S.-born children between the ages of 7 and 10.

"These findings shine a spotlight on a hidden population -- real Rhode Island families facing major obstacles to fulfilling their potential," Morales said in a statement. "Yet children from mixed-status homes are bilingual, bicultural and have great rapport within their families. Most live in two-parent homes and set high aspirations for education and future careers. What more could teachers and principals across the state hope to have among their student body?"

Forty-nine percent of respondents indicated they were mixed-status, meaning they likely have an undocumented parent(s) or sibling, and a U.S.-born citizen child. Some of the adversity that they face includes social exclusion, limited social support, limited social service use and poverty. Eighty-eight percent have a high school diploma or less; 82 percent earn less than $2,000, placing them below the Federal poverty line; 92 percent ate cheaper food to save money in the last six months and 41 percent skipped meals to save money. Additionally, 24 percent had no help with childcare, 44 percent had no job search assistance and 57 percent had no economic assistance.

Undocumented status or fear of exposing a family member's undocumented status means denied access to resources, social networks, economic assistance, social security income, unemployment benefits and/or welfare. Because of this, children of undocumented parents likely lack health insurance and early childhood education, and they're nearly guaranteed to live in overcrowded housing.

"A large percentage of unauthorized adults in this country are the parents of U.S. citizens," Kalina Brabeck, an associate professor and chair of the Counseling, Educational Leadership and School Psychology Department at Rhode Island College, said in a statement. "Their children are our future workers, voters and community members. Children and parents do not exist as isolated entities. They are better understood as a system -- what affects one, affects the other. The data here confirm that despite the remarkable family-based strengths evidenced by these participating families, the challenges faced by parents have implications for their lives and the life chances of their children."

Despite disparities,mixed-status families possess strengths. Approximately 90 percent of children from mixed-status families expect to earn at least a bachelor's degree; 83 percent of children from mixed-status families grow up in a two-parent household; 50 percent of mixed-status families score above average in parent-child communication; and 33 percent of children from these families are fully bilingual in English and Spanish.

The info-graphic was presented at an event at the Rhode Island Foundation that featured discussions by Brabeck. The Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University teamed with Brabeck to release the findings as part of a mission to stimulate public policy discussions and guarantee that leaders are equipped with valid data to inform decision making.

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