Courtesy of Ilana Panich-Linson / The New York Times

Undocumented immigrant families are dropped off at a bus station after being released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in McAllen, Texas, July 2, 2018. Undocumented Latino families are complex, a new Cornell study says.

February 15, 2019

Undocumented Latino Immigrant Families Are Complex, According to New Cornell Research

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Undocumented Latino immigrants have more complex living arrangements and less stable family structures than documented immigrants, a new study conducted by professors in the College of Human Ecology found.

The study, co-authored by Prof. Matthew Hall and Prof. Kelly Musick, policy analysis and management, and Youngmin Yi grad, was the first of its kind to publish conclusive data about the correlation between unstable family lives and child development for undocumented families, according to co-author Kelly Musick.

The study focused primarily on the “1.5th generation of immigrants” — individuals not born in America, but who immigrated into the country in their youth with their families.

Using data on Latino undocumented families between 1996 to 2008 collected by the U.S. Census, the researchers found that 1.5th generation immigrants are more subject to socioeconomic disadvantages. They often have less stable family structures and move around more frequently. Consequently, undocumented children are at increased risk when it comes to education and careers, according to the study.

“Uncertainty associated with the absence of legal authorization plays into complexity and instability in the family life of undocumented immigrants,” Musick said. “These patterns have potentially lasting effects on social and economic well-being for the undocumented population and others to whom they are linked.”

According to the study, undocumented immigrants often live with distant relatives or unrelated individuals. Undocumented immigrants are also more likely to live in larger groups with extended family and non-relatives.

The researchers said that these unstable living environments may have long-term impacts on undocumented children’s education and development. They are less likely to graduate high school and matriculate in higher education, have fewer options for jobs, face more occupational hazards and be paid less, the researchers found.

According to Musick, these impacts have the potential to span several generations, leading to a cumulative, long-term issue.

The study concluded that these structures are less the result of Latino cultural emphasis on family and more the result of socioeconomic factors.

“What we found in terms of the family and living arrangements of undocumented immigrants is consistent with patterns shown in other domains of life,” Musick said. “Lower wages, work hazards, housing insecurity — all pointing to instability in the daily lives of undocumented immigrants.”