In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social and Economic Impact of US Immigration Policies on Undocumented Families

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks

Social Work Social and Economic Impact of US Immigration Policies on Undocumented Families
Pilar S. Horner, Hannah Boyke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0328


Since the late 1990s, federal immigration policy has increasingly restricted immigrants’ access to federally funded assistance programs from cash-based assistance to legal representation in immigration court. These restrictions have been particularly damaging to one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population: undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants are immigrants who lack legal immigration status, either from entering the United States without a valid visa or by overstaying a temporary visa. In response to federal restrictions on cash assistance, federal identification, post-secondary education, and legal representation, some states and localities have enacted policies and implemented programs to support undocumented immigrants. Community and grassroots organizations have emerged to respond to undocumented immigrants’ needs at the local and national level. Immigrant rights organizations are a crucial resource for both policy advocacy and distributing needed information regarding undocumented immigrants’ rights to education, protection from law enforcement, and access to state and local assistance. Still, undocumented immigrants and their family members experience a range of wide-reaching consequences due to immigration laws. Though primarily a federal domain, recent efforts (both local and national) have moved to include local police in immigration enforcement activities, which has intensified undocumented immigrants’ vulnerability when undergoing daily tasks. The consequences of immigration law and enforcement are not only experienced by individuals without legal status. Almost 17 million people in the United States live in mixed status families—families in which at least one family member is undocumented. Mixed-status and undocumented families face destabilizing impacts of the looming threat and occurrence of deportation on health and mental health outcomes, employment, transportation, remittances and home country family ties, family separation at the border and through deportation, and limited post-secondary educational opportunities. These outcomes may be amplified for undocumented immigrants who experience social and individual oppression due to their national origin, racial/ethnic identity, and/or sexual or gender identity. Due to these wide-reaching impacts, access to temporary and permanent visas for undocumented immigrants is an integral aspect of protection. Still, avenues for adjustment of legal status are limited, and major immigration reform has yet to materialize. As a result, national immigration policies on undocumented families contributes to children and families experiencing a multitude of marginalizing impacts that if not addressed will continue to exacerbate an already fragile family and social ecosystem.

Introductory Works

Immigration is a key aspect of US history. From the founding of this country marked by the forced migration of African slaves to the refuge of war-torn populaces, migration has been viewed with shame, hope, and opportunity. Recent scholarly work has turned to the impact of current undocumented immigrants including their prevalence and impact on US society. Bolter 2019a defines immigration and immigrants and introduces data trends regarding the immigrant populations in the United States. Bolter 2019b and Lopez, et al. 2021 provide data regarding undocumented populations in the United States.

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