Testimonial Engagement: Undocumented Latina Mothers Navigating a Gendered Deportation Regime


This community-based qualitative study investigated the real or threatened impact of immigration enforcement on undocumented mothers as they navigate a “gendered deportation regime.” We analyzed seven interviews with undocumented mothers who have experienced the deportation of someone close to them and live under the constant threat of deportation. Based on an inductive, team-based analysis process, we present case examples of four themes that illustrate how undocumented mothers describe their experience negotiating the aftermath and threat of deportation: quality of life, material possibilities, balancing the social, and engaging with advocacy networks. Findings expand on previous research emphasizing the impact of “deportability” on the everyday lives of undocumented immigrants by attending to gendered aspects of immigration enforcement. As a collaborative research team composed of social work faculty, graduate students, and immigrant rights activists, we also critically engage with our attempts to meld research and community organizing in order to illustrate challenges that scholars and social service practitioners face when working with undocumented populations.

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  1. 1.

    A tenfold increase of Mexican and Central American men is much higher than deportation rates for other groups. European and Asian deportations have quadrupled and African and Caribbean deportations have doubled. Moreover, migrants from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania made up only 2.2 % of deportees in 2010, suggesting that men form Latin America and the Caribbean are the prime target of current immigration enforcement by the US government (DHS 2011). While the US government has not released data pertaining to the gender of deportees since 2007, a study coordinated by Mexico’s Colegio de la Frontera Norte of Mexicans who were sent back to Mexico finds that 89 % of those who were repatriated were men (EMIF 2011).

  2. 2.

    A tenfold increase of Mexican and Central American men is much higher than deportation rates for other groups. European and Asian deportations have quadrupled and African and Caribbean deportations have doubled. Moreover, migrants from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania made up only 2.2 % of deportees in 2010, suggesting that men form Latin America and the Caribbean are the prime target of current immigration enforcement by the US government (DHS 2011).

  3. 3.

    While between 2000 and 2010, Michigan’s Latino population increased 34.7 %, Washtenaw county experienced a 56.8 % increase (U.S. Census Bureau 2010).

  4. 4.

    This is referring to Laura Sanders, WICIR advocate and co-author of this paper.


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We gratefully acknowledge the help and contributions of the families who courageously shared their testimonios with us. In addition, we want to thank the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights for their guidance and their unwavering commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable populations.


This work was supported by a grant from the School of Social Work Vivian A. and James L. Curtis Research and Training Center, University of Michigan, and the Center for Research on Ethnicity Culture and Health at the School of Public Health, University of Michigan.

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Correspondence to John Doering-White.

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Doering-White, J., Horner, P., Sanders, L. et al. Testimonial Engagement: Undocumented Latina Mothers Navigating a Gendered Deportation Regime. Int. Migration & Integration 17, 325–340 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-014-0408-7

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  • Undocumented immigrants
  • Mothers
  • Deportation
  • Community organizing