The Educational Legacy of Unauthorized Migration: Comparisons Across U.S.-Immigrant Groups in How Parents’ Status Affects Their Offspring


  • The research reported here was supported in part by grants from the Russell Sage Foundation by the Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine, and by Russell Sage Foundation's U.S. 2010 project. Earlier versions of selected portions of this paper were presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association and the Population Association of America, as well as at conferences or seminars at the Russell Sage Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard University, the International School of Social Science at the University of Amsterdam, and the Transatlantic Academy of the German Marshall Fund. We express our appreciation to the Russell Sage Foundation for funding the collection of the Immigrant Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) data, to Mark DeCamillo of the Field Corporation for advice and consultation in conducting the IIMMLA survey and to Marianne Bitler, David Neumark and Robert J. Sampson for advice on issues arising in the statistical analyses of the data. Errors are solely our responsibility.


This research compares several national-origin groups in terms of how parents’ entry, legalization and naturalization (i.e., membership) statuses relate to their children’s educational attainment. In the case of Asian groups, the members of which predominantly come to the United States as permanent legal migrants, we hypothesize (1) that father’s and mother’s statuses will be relatively homogenous and few in number and (2) that these will exert minimal net effects on second-generation attainment. For Mexicans, many of whom initially come as temporary unauthorized migrants, we hypothesize (1) that parental status combinations will be heterogeneous and greater in number and (2) that marginal membership statuses will exert negative net effects on education in the second generation. To assess these ideas, we analyze unique intergenerational data from Los Angeles on the young adult members of second-generation national-origin groups and their parents. The findings show that Asian immigrant groups almost universally exhibit similar father–mother migration statuses and high educational attainment among children. By contrast, Mexicans manifest more numerous discrepant father–mother combinations, with those in which the mother remains unauthorized carrying negative implications for children’s schooling. The paper discusses the theoretical and policy implications of the delays in incorporation that result from Mexican Americans needing extra time and resources compared to the members of other groups to overcome their handicap of marginal membership status (i.e., being more likely to enter and remain unauthorized).