The impact of avoiding surveilling institutions among the children of U.S. immigrants
Desai, Sarah E.
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The U.S. is home to more than eleven million unauthorized immigrants, nearly two-thirds of whom have lived in the country for more than a decade. Lack of full membership in society leads to slowed assimilation among the immigrant generation and raises important questions about the adaptation trajectory for their children. Using data from the Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles survey, this study explores the legacy of legal marginalization for the children of unauthorized immigrants. As personal surveillance increases vulnerable populations engage in efforts to avoid it, termed system avoidance (Goffman 2009, Brayne 2014). When people avoid surveilling institutions they are cut off from middle class pathways that increase stability, such as higher education, formal employment, and banking. The children of unauthorized Mexican immigrants in this study engage in system avoidance, but participate in non-surveilling institutions at the same rate as their peers with legal parents. This supports the idea that it is the record-keeping nature of some institutions that prompts avoidance. Families that migrate without authorization often have lower levels of education and higher rates of poverty, before and after they move to the U.S., than their legal counterparts. Propensity score matching is employed to address socioeconomic differences in unauthorized and legal immigrants, which may also shape their participation in institutions. Matching eliminates the association between parental legal status and system avoidance, indicating that avoidance is likely attributable to selection bias. Social trust, experiences of discrimination, neighborhood disorder, and tenure are also analyzed as potential moderators of the relationship between unauthorized parents and system avoidance. Surprisingly, none of these alter patterns of avoiding surveilling institutions. Although social trust and discrimination are not linked to avoidance of surveilling institutions, they are associated with increased participation in institutions that do not keep formal records.