Navigating the policy context: Experiences of undocumented Mexican mothers in a new suburban immigrant community


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

In the context of macroeconomic and social processes that have feminized the undocumented Mexican migration flow and diversified U.S. immigrant destinations, increasing numbers of undocumented Mexican families have settled in new communities. Undocumented Mexican parents with citizen children face a sociopolitical context that excludes them from the public benefits their U.S.-born children are eligible to receive. Social welfare scholars emphasize the negative effect that “tiers of eligibility” within families have on citizen children whose undocumented parents fear the repercussions of accessing the social welfare system, yet little is known about the “lived” experiences of parents with the policies that exclude them. Where family welfare and institutional negotiation are primarily the responsibility of mothers, access to services becomes a gendered phenomenon. This qualitative study portrays the perceptions and strategies of undocumented Mexican mothers seeking resources for their families in a new, suburban immigrant community. From a feminist perspective, the experiences of undocumented Mexican women as mothers, traditionally marginalized in the policy discourse and literature, are the pivotal subject of inquiry. Twenty undocumented Mexican mothers who achieved access to the social welfare system through their association with a local mother and child health program were recruited for in-depth interviews. In addition, twenty-seven key informants were interviewed about their experiences in serving undocumented families. Data also included observation and document review. Common themes and discrepancies were drawn from data, coded, compared, categorized, and analyzed. Findings about mothers’ and providers’ access strategies provide a more nuanced understanding of invisibility that accounts for the simultaneous processes of marginalization and individual agency. Findings support research showing citizen children of undocumented parents do not always get the resources to which they are entitled. However, findings that show mothers applied for some benefits and not others expand the definition of access to account for real and perceived barriers to resource-attainment. Findings suggest the need for a human rights framework to counteract the discourse of eligibility and citizenship, a normative framework that limits efforts to improve the lives of “unauthorized” families. Implications reflect a reevaluation of U.S. social welfare and immigrant policy that recognizes the presence of undocumented families.

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