Immigrant families focus of recent national symposium

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The 31st Annual National Symposium on Family Issues recently was held at Penn State’s University Park campus and focused on how immigration policies impact the rapidly growing migrant family demographic. 

“Twenty-six percent of all children living in the United States live with an immigrant family, and of those children, almost a third of them have at least one unauthorized immigrant parent,” said Jennifer Van Hook, Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography and Penn State Population Research Institute (PRI) director.  

With global migration rising, the laws that regulate migration flows and settlement have been very slow to change. These regulations are not meeting the demands within the system, and this symposium further examined these discrepancies.  

The first session explored how U.S. immigration laws prioritize certain family relationships, granting privileges to marriages and immediate kin, but lead to family separation and deportations, affecting the composition of immigrant and humanitarian migrant families. 

The second session of the symposium delved into the challenges faced by families and children living in the context of exclusion, particularly those with unauthorized legal status. Speakers discussed the stressors and economic hardships associated with this status, which lack legal protections, expose individuals to the risk of detention and deportation, and can hinder the educational and career aspirations of undocumented children. 

Speakers for the third session focused on how the legal status of immigrants can affect the overall well-being and health of their U.S.-born citizen children, highlighting the spillover effects on the wider kinship network. 

To further build on this work, PRI, under the Social Science Research Institute, launched the Migration Diversity Initiative led by Van Hook. The primary mission of the initiative is to broaden Penn State’s involvement in helping to build a more just and equitable response to the needs of immigrants and their families.

“The initiative is investing in high-impact research projects through the provision of seed grants, a working group, and support for a postdoctoral scholar. It is also engaging graduate and undergraduate students through its co-sponsorship of migration-related lectures and learning opportunities in collaboration with the College of the Liberal Arts,” Van Hook said.

For more information on the Migration Diversity Initiative, or to get involved, contact Van Hook.

The Symposium on Family Issues has been sponsored annually by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development  along with PRI and the Social Science Research Institute. Additional support was provided by the Penn State departments of Sociology and Criminology, Psychology, and Human Development and Family Studies, in addition to support from the Child Study Center, the Prevention Research Center, and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.  

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