Migration Dialogues Speaker Series: Vanessa Delgado

Leveraging Protections, Navigating Punishments: How Adult Children of Undocumented Immigrants Mediate Illegality

Vanessa Delgado, Doctoral Candidate | Department of Sociology, University of California-Irvine


Objective: The objective of this study is to examine how adult children of undocumented immigrants manage parental illegality in Latinx immigrant families.

Background: There are 16.7 million people who live with at least one undocumented family member in the U.S. today. Scholars have documented how children of undocumented immigrants can help navigate the negative consequences of illegality in their families. However, less is known about how the immigration status of these youth shapes the support they provide to their undocumented parents.

Method: This study draws on 41 in-depth semi-structured interviews with 19 DACAmented and 22 U.S.-born citizen college students (18-27) who had at least one undocumented parent. Interviews were collected via snowball sampling technique at a large research university in Southern California.

Results: The findings suggest that citizen and DACAmented college students engage in distinct strategies when mediating illegality for their undocumented parents.  Citizens attempt to leverage their protected legal status to help their undocumented parents become Lawful Permanent Residents and step in during situations where threats of deportation are imminent. DACAmented young adults draw on their experience with legal precarity to help their undocumented parents navigate punishments associated with their immigration status.

Conclusion: This research uncovers how parents’ precarious legal status contributes to the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage among citizen and DACAmented young adults—and how these youths try to mediate the harms of illegality.

Implications: The strategies adult children of undocumented immigrants implement to negotiate illegality in their families highlights the need for policy addressing the legal vulnerability of undocumented and mixed status families. 

(To register for the talk, please contact bmi@arizona.edu)


Noon March 30, 2022

Event Contacts

Binational Migration Institute