Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 24, Issue 11, pp 3213–3223 | Cite as

The Distress of Citizen-Children with Detained and Deported Parents

  • Luis H. Zayas
  • Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola
  • Hyunwoo Yoon
  • Guillermina Natera Rey
Original Paper


In immigration enforcement, many undocumented immigrants with children are often detained and deported. But it is their US-born citizen-children that have been overlooked in immigration debates and enforcement policies and practices. Citizen-children are at risk for negative psychological outcomes when families are fractured and destabilized by arrest, detention, and deportation. The children risk being torn from their parents and, often, their undocumented siblings. To add to the small but growing empirical base on the effects of living under the threat of deportation and actual deportation of parents, we compared the psychological status of three groups of citizen-children: (1) a group living in Mexico with their deported parents; (2) a group in the US with parents affected by detention or deportation; and (3) a comparison group of citizen-children whose undocumented parents were not affected by detention or deportation. We compared children on self-report and parent-report measures of behavioral adjustment, depression, anxiety, and self-concept. Across the three groups we found elevated levels of distress, and differences between children who had experienced a parent’s detention or deportation and those who had not. We discuss findings in the context of children’s clinical needs, future research, and implications for immigration enforcement policy and practices.


Citizen-children Deportation Undocumented immigrants Mental health Mexico 



Support for this research was provided by National Institute for Child Health and Human Development Grant HD068874 to Luis H. Zayas. We express our gratitude to the families who participated in this study, the community partners who facilitated access, and our excellent field staff led by M. Andrea Campetella in Austin, TX, Mariana Ruiz del Rio and Karina Martinez-Juarez in Sacramento, CA, and Dewi Hernandez Montoya, and Georgina Miguel Esponda in Mexico City.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luis H. Zayas
    • 1
  • Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola
    • 2
  • Hyunwoo Yoon
    • 1
  • Guillermina Natera Rey
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Center for Reducing Health Disparities, Davis Medical CenterUniversity of CaliforniaDavis, SacramentoUSA
  3. 3.Instituto Nacional de PsiquiatríaMexico CityMexico

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