Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The most recent peak in migration has involved large numbers of undocumented people and much of the sociological scholarship on immigration explores their lives as individuals and how they stay connected to their family across borders, but there is little research about the new phenomenon of mixed-status immigrant families-- families with at least one unauthorized immigrant and one U.S. citizen--or how their families face the looming risk of separation. The purpose of this dissertation is to describe the experiences and challenges these families confront. Why has there been a rise in mixed-status immigrant families? How does the relative permanence of mixed-status families affect other family members? What dilemmas do they face regarding work, travel, and education?

To answer these questions, I conducted interviews with 54 mixed-status family members who live in Chicago and ten community advocates who serve mixed-status families. The families consisted of one undocumented spouse, one citizen spouse and at least one U.S.-born child. The focus of this study is on adult members of these families and how their mixed-status affects them. I found that members developed strategies that allowed them to safely access resources while protecting against the risk of separation. Moreover, families used their citizen members strategically to access resources. I found that spouses who are citizens take on additional responsibilities and give up work and education prospects in order to keep their families from risk. In other words, decisions made to keep families together also hinder opportunities for members who are legal. Diminished work, travel and educational opportunities among the citizen spouse leads to the development of a group of second-class families and impairs their ability to get ahead.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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