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JPAM Closer Look Author Interview: Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes and Esther Arenas-Arroyo on Immigration Enforcement and Children's Living Arrangements

April 18, 2019 02:14 PM
Interview by Michelle Slattery, JPAM (3/31/2019)
Tougher immigration enforcement was responsible for 1.8 million deportations between 2009 and 2013 alone—many of them were fathers of American children. Despite the increased spending on immigration enforcement and the growing number of removals, many of them non‐criminal in nature, the implications of tougher immigration enforcement on immigrant families are yet to be well understood.
The authors of the study Immigration and Enforcement and Children's Living Arrangements - Dr. Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes and Dr. Esther Arenas-Arroyo - assessed the impact of immigration enforcement on the structure of families. They found that the average increase in immigration enforcement during the 2005 to 2015 period has raised by 19 percent the likelihood that Hispanic U.S.‐born children might live without their parents in households headed by naturalized relatives or friends unthreatened by deportation. Likewise, the same increase in immigration enforcement has raised by 20 percent these children's propensity to live with likely undocumented mothers who report their spouses as being absent—a reasonable finding given that most children with a likely undocumented father have undocumented mothers.
Their findings contribute to a rapidly growing literature concerned with the consequences of a fragmented approach to immigration enforcement.

Amuedo_1      Esther_1
My interview with the authors, Dr. Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes (left) and Dr. Esther Arenas-Arroyo (right), follows:

1. What inspired you to research immigration enforcement and children’s living arrangement?
Seeing, first hand, how the buildup of interior immigration enforcement is impacting the well-being of families who have been contributing to the economy and the community for many years, as well as their children –most of whom are U.S. born citizens. 
2. The main aim of the study was to see how the adoption of tougher immigration enforcement at the local and state levels has influenced the structure of families. What were your main findings?
We find that interior immigration enforcement has had a significant impact on the structure of many families with a parent who is a low-skilled, long-term resident, Hispanic non-citizen –traits shown to be associated to a higher likelihood of being undocumented.  Their U.S. born offspring appear to be more likely to:
• Live without their parents in households headed by naturalized relatives or friends unthreatened by deportation, as well as to
• Live with a likely undocumented mother who reports her spouse as being absent –a reasonable finding given that most children with a likely undocumented father have undocumented mothers.
3. Did you encounter any challenges while conducting this study and how did you overcome them?
There are many challenges when trying to gauge the impact of immigration enforcement on undocumented migrants and their families.  I would note three main ones.  First, the lack of representative datasets with information on the legal status of individuals.  Instead, researchers have to infer the legal status.  Second, how to best measure immigration enforcement.  Some people like using indicators of policy implementation, whereas others use policy outcomes, such as deportations.  There are pros and cons to the various choices.  Finally, whenever one works with immigrant populations, one has to worry about the non-random location of immigrants, especially undocumented migrants.  Not accounting for the latter can bias your findings.         
4. Advocacy efforts to “Abolish ICE (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement)” and “Build that wall” are leading to ongoing debates about immigration enforcement. What findings from your study do you think are most critical to this debate?
Our findings underscore the damage that indiscriminately applied intensified immigration enforcement can have on children and families that have been part of our communities and social fabric for quite some time now.  Instead, we believe that a more targeted immigration enforcement that targets individuals convicted of significant criminal offenses or who otherwise pose a threat to public safety (as was the case with the Priority Enforcement Program), is a more sensible and humanitarian approach. 

5. When it comes to immigration enforcement and children, what additional research do you think is needed to help inform policymakers?
In related research, we also find that the intensification of immigration has risen household poverty, interfered with the educational attainment of children, lower fertility, risen foster care placements of Hispanic youth and restrained the civic engagement and naturalization of Hispanic citizens and eligible to naturalize Hispanics in mixed-status households.  Overall, these findings point to the many damaging effects that a fragmented approach to immigration enforcement is having on many immigrant households.
We need to have a better understanding of how the policies adopted over the past two decades are impacting the children raised under such policies in order to learn from the experience.  How is their overall well-being, a result from health, education, family, income, etc., being impacted, now as well as long-term?  What could we be doing differently?
• CATALINA AMUEDO‐DORANTES is a Professor of Economics at San Diego State University (e‐
• ESTHER ARENAS‐ARROYO is a Postdoctoral Researcher for the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford (e‐
View the authors' JPAM article by clicking the image above.


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