[Excerpt] Unauthorized immigration to the US has a long and varied history shaped by a number of shifts in immigration policy. Of the global immigrant stock, 10–15 % is estimated to be undocumented (20–30 million; International Organization for Migration 2008). Today, undocumented immigrants comprise roughly 40 % of the immigrant flow to the US. Although immigrants often come to this country as a result of complex factors that were initiated or supported by the US—including free trade agreements and wars that devastated immigrants’ home countries and their national economies—once they become unauthorized, they find themselves in extremely vulnerable positions. Besides being low-wage workers targeted for exploitation, immigrants are also parents raising families and trying to get a foothold in US society.
The last few decades in policy changes and enforcement tactics have been especially harsh toward unauthorized immigrants, as they have led to changes in migration and settlement patterns that make more people vulnerable over longer periods of time. The militarization of the US southern border with Mexico has increased the dangers of crossing so much that the previous seasonal migration of mostly male migrants was slowed down to a trickle. While the economic recession that began in 2007 has slowed the flow of migrants, other factors such as border security have also certainly played a role in the magnitude and method of migration (Wasem 2012). Rather than risk their lives at each crossing, many undocumented immigrants have opted to remain in the US and settle. For those with families, bringing their relatives to settle along with them was the only way to guarantee family unity. This drastic shift in migration patterns has led to previously unseen numbers of unauthorized women and children who must also navigate the consequences of immigration policies in their family life (Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994). The recent surge of undocumented children crossing from Central America has highlighted the urgency of this crisis.
Public debates on immigration, however, have until recently focused exclusively on male adult migrants. As the scholarly literature shifts to examine the patterns and experiences of immigrant families, this chapter reviews the complex and multifaceted consequences of immigration policies for these families. Notably, both the long stalemate of immigration reform at the federal level and the fast pace of policy changes at the state and local levels have had deep repercussions for immigrant families who must navigate policies in a context that heavily restricts their paths to legalization.