Divided by Borders: Mexican Migrants and Their Children

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Their migration and hard work represent a sacrifice of everyday comforts for the sake of their children and their children's future. Mexican migrant parents' commitments to their children may not be all that different from those of working parents in the United States. Like many others, Mexican migrants put in long hours on the job and entrust the care of their children to others.

They expect that through continued participation in the labor force, they will be able to enhance their children's opportunities. They feel conflicted about their decisions over how to reconcile the demands of work and family life. But transnational parents work thousands of miles away from their children. They are unable to see their children at the end of every day, and the sacrifice involved in their work decisions is enormous.

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How do migrant parents and children manage living apart? What are the costs of such a sacrifice? Drawing on interviews and fieldwork with more than members of Mexican families and in schools in both central New Jersey and south-central Mexico, this book answers these questions. It is the first contemporaneous study of family members' experiences of separation that includes the perspectives of mothers, fathers, children, and children's caregivers.

Although restrictive U. I explore the lives of families in which married fathers and single mothers have migrated alone and those in which mothers and fathers have migrated together. I pay particular attention to the ways in which gender and family structure shape family members' experiences. I also include the perspectives of children, to evaluate the consequences such migration patterns have over a child's life course. By following the experiences of select families over a number of years, I provide an up close and personal account of private aspects of the lives of the Mexican men and women working in low-wage jobs in the continental United States, their hopes and aspirations, and those of their family members living in Mexico.

Rather than in the workplace, street, or neighborhood, I explore the migratory experience within the domains of family life, in what might be considered a "domestic ethnography. The interviews show the lives of parents and children divided by borders to be extremely difficult. Parents and children are tied to each other by the expectation that parents will make economic gains during their time abroad and that children will make their parents' sacrifices worthwhile.

Yet the lives of parents and children divided by borders are essentially unequal. Parents and children live in different worlds, with different daily routines, different opportunities, and different sources of tension. As their lives unfold in the United States, parents are unable to meet the expectations of migration as quickly as they had hoped. Unmet expectations, particularly of migrant mothers, cause tensions and hurt feelings in parent-child relationships.

Meanwhile, children in Mexico feel resentful of parents' absences. They have a difficult time proving their parents' sacrifices worthwhile. The emotional fallout of parents' work decisions is a great source of hardship in families. Over time, however, parents and children show remarkable resolve to overcome such hardships. Unmet expectations are not absolute. Parents cling to their parenting roles even when those roles are difficult to fulfill. They often adjust their goals and aspirations in reaction to their children's negative experiences of family separation, and children are able to influence their parents' subsequent migration decisions.

Parent-child relationships at a distance are constantly in flux. The hardships arising from separation paradoxically reinforce family members' commitments to each other. A story of both adversity and the intensity of family ties, this book depicts the ways in which Mexican families struggle and persevere in a global economy. The dawn of the twenty-first century marks what some consider to be the third major wave of global migration.

Today, men, women, and their families are moving not from densely populated areas to frontiers, as was typical before the mid-twentieth century, but rather from less developed countries to highly industrialized nations, such as from Mexico to the United States. Technological advances have enabled migrants to maintain more dense social and economic ties in home and host countries than in times past.


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Migrants from Latin America, for example, sent more than 50 billion U. Contemporary researchers describe individual families who are divided by international borders and who maintain significant emotional and economic ties in two countries as "transnational families. Yet today this migration pattern is most common among those moving from less wealthy to more prosperous nations.

When the most economically productive members of the family—men and women in the prime of their lives—move to areas of concentrated capital in industrialized nations, and children and the elderly remain in developing areas with few resources, inequalities between contemporary wealthy and poor nations are reproduced and reinforced in individual households. The inequalities experienced by today's migrant households are different in another way. It used to be that men were the primary movers in families. Although migrant mothers were not unheard of during earlier periods, these cases appear to have been unusual.

SO Family and Migration

A study of family separation among U. Among Mexicans, the bracero program — institutionalized male-led migration patterns by providing men with temporary agricultural work visas but offered no provisions for the migration of their wives and children.

When men left women and children to work abroad, migration accentuated gender inequalities within families. Today, however, mothers who migrate without their children are increasingly common, suggesting a major shift in the ways families around the world fulfill individual and household needs. In some cases, women migrate before their husbands and children, radically reversing migration patterns of times past. Among the more than 11 million Mexicans currently living and working in the United States, estimates suggest that 38 percent of fathers and 15 percent of mothers have children living in Mexico.

Although rates of male migration still outpace those of females, Mexican women, especially those who are unmarried, widowed, or divorced, are migrating at higher rates than ever before.

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A mother's choice to migrate is often reluctant, with deep emotional repercussions; such choices mark the pervasive impact of global inequalities on individual families. At the same time, some suggest that migrant mothers are "actively, if not voluntarily, building alternative constructions of motherhood Transnational mothers and their families are blazing new terrain, spanning national borders, and improvising strategies for mothering.


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Scholarship on today's migrating mothers and others divided by international borders categorizes them, for the most part, as a new class of "transnational migrants" who can be distinguished both from non-migrants in their home communities and from immigrants in receiving countries who have severed ties with family and community back home. Researchers have found complex ideas of identity among this new class of citizens, who feel they belong to two or more nations. Transnational migrants are often politically active in organizations from their hometown and support development projects there, and national policies and actions shape, and at times constrain, transnational migrants' activities.

Economic contributions of this new class of citizen may end up dividing communities of origin between those who have little or no access to remittances and those who have become the "remittance bourgeoisie.

Much of our understanding of the lives of transnational migrants comes from the experiences of Mexicans in the United States; perhaps no other immigrant group has as lengthy a history of transnational migration. Advocates for children have said they do not know how to find parents, who are more likely to have important information about why the family is fleeing its home country.

And if, for instance, a parent is deported, there is no clear way for them to ensure their child is deported with them.

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This was harshly criticized and a federal court in stopped the government from holding families for months without explanation. Instead, they were released while they waited for their immigration cases to be heard in court. Read more. Gwilym, managing attorney for the Seattle branch of Kids in Need of Defense Kind , an advocacy group for unaccompanied immigrant children, said children aged 12 to 17 had been comforting toddlers who, like them, had just been taken from their parents.

In the face of widespread, bipartisan condemnation, and warnings from medical bodies about the long-term consequences these separations have on children, Trump and his cabinet have stood firm. Congress has not given Trump funds for any new stretches of wall, but in the interim, his administration has created an invisible wall of policies that advocates and attorneys say are meant to stem all types of immigration. The separation of children from their parents is just the most dramatic of many measures the Trump administration has taken to tackle illegal immigration across the United States.

Those affected include refugees, undocumented adults and children, who have also been targeted with a slate of actions such as the cancellation of a refugee program for children traveling from the dangerous Central American northern triangle countries. There are now daily stories of undocumented people, resident in the United States for decades and with children born in the country, being targeted at their places of work and being forcibly returned home. And in a similar style to the family separation policy, the administration abruptly canceled a program that provided temporary deportation relief for undocumented immigrants who had been raised in the US known as Dreamers : Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Daca.

After the revoking of Daca and termination of a special deportation relief measure called Temporary Protected Status for six countries, 1,, people are no longer protected from deportation, according to government figures.

At the border, those parents are deemed criminals and separated from their children, who cannot be held in adult detention facilities. She and her child were reunited after Gelernt filed a lawsuit on their behalf.

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Gelernt said the detained parents he had been speaking with were afraid to ask immigration agents too much about their children for fear their children would face retaliation. Gelernt said one family told him that since they were reunited, their four-year-old has repeatedly asked if the government is going to take him away again.

As the case works through the court, the impacts of family separation have been compounded by the lack of infrastructure built to support the policy. McKenna said when parents and children were separated, they each got individual case numbers that their mother, father, daughter or son did not have access to. On the chance that these numbers would be sequential, Kind advocates started putting educated guesses into the case tracking system in the hopes it would lead them to parents they were seeking.

Or it could be the other way around. She said other problems included that children might not know why their family was fleeing in the first place, which could affect the outcome of their immigration case. For instance, if a parent is deported, they might want their child returned with them.

Or there may be so much danger in their home country, they would prefer the child stay with immigration authorities in the US.