The Political Socialization of the U.S.-born Children of Undocumented and Mixed-Status Immigrant Parents

Awarded Scholars:
Alex Street, Cornell University
Chris Zepeda-Millán, Loyola Marymount University
Project Date:
May 2013
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

An estimated nine million US residents live in “mixed-status” households that include at least one unauthorized adult and one or more US-born children. These children are in a unique political position: they enjoy the rights of US citizenship but they are also confronted with the legal exclusion of their parents. How does political socialization work when the parents themselves do not enjoy basic civil and political rights and are subject to deportation? Do the children of the undocumented take advantage of their rights as citizens? Or do undocumented parents teach their children to avoid state institutions and refrain from making political demands? Studying this group promises to provide new insights into the effects of the current US immigration system and into the processes of political socialization of second generation immigrants.

Political scientists Alex Street and Chris Zepeda-Millán will conduct an online survey of more than 1200 second generation Latinos to test whether socialization experiences, or the links between socialization and later behavior, are shaped by the responses of parents, children, and other political actors to the unique situation of US citizens with undocumented parents. The PIs will test two sets of conjectures: 1) US-born citizens with undocumented parents have relatively little knowledge of the American political system; they have low trust in the US political system; they have a weak sense of political efficacy; and they are less likely to engage in political activities; however 2) if US-born citizens with undocumented parents have contact with political activists, they may be more likely to engage in political activity; if they have positive relationships with representatives of US institutions, they may be more politically active; but if they experience discrimination in US institutions, they may avoid political involvement.

The 25-minute survey will target US-born Latinos aged 18 to 31—those born in the US since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act allowed undocumented immigrants who had entered the US before 1982 to regularize. The survey run by YouGov, an online polling firm, will use a screening question to ensure that half of the participants have experience with one or more undocumented parents. Research subjects will be matched to the demographic characteristics of second generation Latinos using Current Population Survey data from January-March 2013. Building on prior research on political socialization and second generation children of immigrants, the survey will measure what is distinctive about the early political experiences of US-born citizens with undocumented parents and will provide evidence on the effects of these differences. The investigators plan to write articles for publication in leading academic journals and present results at academic conferences. The data will be deposited with the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research for use by other scholars, by the end of 2013.


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