An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2021

“Trauma Makes You Grow Up Quicker”: The Financial & Emotional Burdens of Deportation & Incarceration

Yajaira Ceciliano-Navarro and Tanya Maria Golash-Boza
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Research on the impacts of incarceration and deportation describes the negative consequences for children and young people. But how these events impact adults and members of extended families has not been broadly considered. And no study has directly compared incarceration with deportation. The study described in this essay, based on interviews with 111 adult individuals with a family member deported (57) or incarcerated (54), reveals how these experiences have long-lasting emotional and financial impacts and considers the similarities and differences between incarceration and deportation. The deportation or incarceration of parents is devastating; yet the absence of other relatives such as sons, sisters, brothers, aunts, cousins, grandchildren, and other household members also translates into severe sentimental and economic hardships not only for the immediate but also for the extended family.

Yajaira Ceciliano-Navarro is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. She writes on topics such as gender, social dialogue, youth, and deportations, and has published in such journals as International Migration, Peripherie, and Contexts.

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. She is the author of Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism (2015), Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions and Deportations in Post-911 America (2012), Due Process Denied: Detentions and Deportations in the United States (2012), and Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru (2011).

Incarceration and deportation have been studied extensively in the wake of the rise of mass incarceration during the 1970s and deportations during the 1990s.1 Scholars and advocates have concluded that both systems of repression serve as a form of social control of People of Color, vulnerable immigrants, surplus workers, and those who have difficulty holding a job in the contemporary economy, such as the mentally ill. Both mass incarceration and mass deportation have intensified in times of crisis: incarceration rates grew in the aftermath of the 1970s oil crisis and the deindustrialization that followed and deportations increased after the Great Recession. Both incarceration and deportation have affected millions of people in the twenty-first century.2

The Black and Latinx communities have borne the brunt of both incarceration and deportation.3 Black people are more than five times as likely as White people to be imprisoned. One in ten Black children has a parent behind bars, compared with one in sixty White children.4 Nearly all deportees (97 percent) are sent to Latin America and the Caribbean, many of them leaving behind partners and children. These twin forces thus exacerbate preexisting racial inequalities and lead to devastating emotional and financial repercussions for Black and Latinx families.5

A plethora of studies have indicated just how deeply incarceration and deportation affect family members left behind, describing the emotional and material suffering among the children especially.6 To date, however, no study has systematically explored the similarities and differences between incarceration and deportation. The purpose of this essay is thus to compare the effects of deportation and incarceration among adult members of affected families in California. Drawing from 111 interviews with family members of incarcerated and deported people, we explore how family members experience the emotional and financial burdens of deportation and incarceration and explain the similarities and differences between them.

The available literature reveals many similarities between the experiences of deported and incarcerated family members. Much of it focuses on the minor children of the removed person. For example, the incarceration of a parent can lead to anxiety, poor school performance, and long-term cognitive and emotional deficits.7 The deportation of a family member has been tied to long-lasting emotional effects as well as poor mental and physical health and deteriorating school performance for children.8

It is never easy to have a family member behind bars, but the incarceration of a violent or abusive parent can often be beneficial for children and their families. Children who had a strong bond with their parents before incarceration, however, can experience trauma, anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress.9 These difficult emotions will, in turn, have a negative effect on children’s behavior, school performance, and physical and mental health.10

Financial impacts also affect both groups. Insofar as most deportees and arrestees are men, their removal may involve the loss of the sole or primary breadwinner. In many cases, this happens without warning, leading to immediate hardship. Research ties both incarceration and deportation to food and housing insecurity.11 Women and teenage family members may have to enter the labor market.12 The need for remaining caretakers to take on additional paid work decreases their availability to the children. Likewise, financial hardships have short- and long-term impacts, affecting children’s futures.13

The removal of a parent can also lead to changes that have their own emotional consequences. For example, children may have to move from their houses or neighborhoods, live with other family members, or take on new roles in the household, all of which may damage their emotional well-being.14 When a family member is deported, families must make difficult decisions regarding whether they will relocate closer to the border to be near their deported relative, or move abroad to reunite as a family. If the family is not reunited, this forced separation often causes significant hardship and children frequently experience not only sadness and isolation, but also resentment and rebelliousness.15

Likewise, visiting family members behind bars creates its own stressors for the relatives of deported and incarcerated people. Organizing the visit itself can be extremely stressful due to the layers of bureaucracy, planning, and money involved.16 At the same time, these visits can be positive experiences for children because they allow them to form or maintain emotional bonds with their incarcerated or detained parents.17 For families of deportees, family members who lack citizenship often fear entering detention facilities, yielding an inability to visit, which is emotionally difficult.18

Both deportation and incarceration also create expenses that can be onerous for already stressed families. While the overall income level of deportees is difficult to determine, given noncitizens’ marginalization in the job market and the fact that most are People of Color, it is likely that they faced some precarity before deportation. Most people who are incarcerated are of modest economic means, and incarceration pushes their families deeper into poverty.19 It is costly to call incarcerated or detained people, to send packages, and to send them money for small comforts inside prison.20 Even upon release families may have to repay bail or other fines, and formerly incarcerated people face almost insurmountable challenges in the labor market.21 Similarly, helping a deported relative return to the United States or sending remittances and visiting if the relative remains in the origin country can be a financial burden on the families of deportees.22 Deportation creates fear that can lead families left behind in the United States to move to other neighborhoods or cities, which can create additional financial costs.

Fear, in fact, may be a major distinction between the families of deportees and those of incarcerated persons. Relatives, both those who are legally deportable themselves and those who are not, experience fear and anxiety about their own possible deportation.23 This fear translates into significant disruptions in a family’s activities, as family members may avoid leaving the home to go to work or to attend school meetings or medical appointments for fear of deportation.24 This sentiment is less common with family members of incarcerated people who usually do not fear that they too will be incarcerated. Nevertheless, the experiences of incarceration and deportation have not been directly compared prior to this study.

The findings presented here are based on 111 interviews, conducted between 2013 and 2019, in California. A team of researchers, including a faculty member, graduate students, and undergraduate students trained in interviewing techniques, conducted the interviews. Using a semistructured interview guide, we interviewed people over eighteen years of age who had experienced the deportation or incarceration of a member of their family with whom they lived. We chose to focus on all household members–instead of just parents and children–as most previous research has focused only on parents and children. The interviews lasted from one to two hours. The interviews, conducted in English or Spanish, according to the interviewee’s preference, were recorded, transcribed, and coded. All Spanish translations were done by the authors of this essay.

The participants included eighty-five women and twenty-six men. Fifty-four interviewees had a family member who had been incarcerated, and fifty-seven interviewees had a family member who had been deported. The first group ranged in age from twenty to eighty, and their average age was forty-two years old. The second group ranged in age from eighteen to sixty-one and the average age was twenty-eight. All but seven interviewees who were related to an incarcerated person were born in the United States, while twenty (35 percent) of the relatives of deportees were immigrants. With the exception of one person from Yemen, all the immigrants were born in Mexico. All but one of the relatives of deported people were Latinx, as were the majority of the relatives of incarcerated people. The incarcerated relatives included one mother, one sister, fourteen sons, twelve fathers, eight brothers, five cousins, three husbands, two uncles, two grandchildren, one stepson, one son-in-law, one partner, one nephew, and one ex-partner. Most deportees were male, with a total of forty-six participants experiencing a male relative’s deportation. Two of these experienced the deportation of both parents. Male deportees included twenty-two fathers, ten brothers, four uncles, two husbands, and ten assorted others, including ex-fiancés, ex-husbands, and brothers-in-law. The deported female relatives included six mothers and three aunts. Parents were more common among the relatives of incarcerated people, comprising thirty-five, while only fifteen relatives of deportees were parents. More than half of the interviewees related to an incarcerated person had also experienced the incarceration of other relatives.            

Our interviews revealed that the most common emotional experiences for people with incarcerated or deported relatives centered upon sadness, nostalgia, fear, frustration, relief, and stigmatization. The most common financial consequences include loss of income, costs related to the criminalization or deportation process, and financial obligations postrelease or postdeportation.

Interviewees in both samples described missing the removed person. They referenced feelings of emptiness and loss, especially on particular dates. For example, Lorna, whose stepson is incarcerated, said his absence is depressing for her, but emphasized how sad it is to see her husband missing his son on holidays:

Well, yeah, I get more upset when it’s around holidays and stuff, and he’s not around. Because his dad gets more emotional because he wants his son there, you know? And all he gets to do is talk to him on the phone. So, it’s just like kind of hard. (Lorna, thirty-five years old, Salinas, California; her stepson has been incarcerated for three years and is still in prison.)

Celina, whose father was deported some time ago, still feels the emptiness her father left:

Yeah, I miss just family time, you know, just being with him in the house, just, yeah, basically spending time with him. (Celina, twenty-four years old, Atwater, California; her father was deported six years ago.)

Although most of the interviewees describe similar negative emotions (nostalgia and sadness) regarding relatives’ deportation or incarceration, the interviews also revealed some differences in the nature of their emotional experiences. In narratives about deportation, family members reported that fear was the most predominant sentiment. In contrast, incarceration stories displayed a broader set of emotions, such as anger, frustration, disappointment, guilt, and relief.

In line with previous research, many of the interviewees related to deportees expressed fear and uncertainty. They wondered what would happen to their family and whether others would be deported as well. Ana and Ivonne described modifying their daily routines as a result. For Ana, this modification related to conversation, even at home. She said, of her aunt’s deportation,

We . . . weren’t allowed to talk about it, like about what was happening because, like, you know she could get in trouble, or like if somebody finds out and somebody gets mad at like her like somebody in our family, like yeah. (Ana, twenty-one years old, Santa Barbara, California; her aunt was deported fifteen years ago.)

Ivonne’s family no longer felt safe going out after her father was deported. She said,

It was like something really–at the same time, it was frustrating because we couldn’t do anything. It was like–it affected us all, we did not know what to do. We were scared. We were–we couldn’t go out at peace anymore, so it affected my whole family. (Ivonne, twenty-four years old, born in Mexico, now living in Merced, California; her father was deported eleven years ago.)

Joana explained how she is concerned about her brother’s safety in Mexico due to the presence of narcotraffickers in the small town where he lives. Because “they have a lot of narcos over there,” she worries they may try to forcibly recruit her brother. (Joana, twenty-six years old, Los Angeles, California; her brother was deported seven years ago and is still in Mexico.)

Individuals with incarcerated family members tend to display a broader set of emotions, such as anger, frustration, disappointment, guilt, and relief. Andrea, whose son is still incarcerated, explained that her emotional response had

changed because a lot of anger . . . a lot of guilt, you know, and it does something to you, your character. It makes you not want to do things; it makes you not want to be motivated to get right. But you have to get through that and just give it to God and just move on, you know. You got to come out of it. And the only way you can is through God. (Andrea, fifty-one years old, Madera, California; her son was incarcerated eighteen years ago and is still in prison.)

Her negative emotions have had a direct impact on her daily motivations and health, and leaving everything in “God’s hands” became a vital coping strategy.

People whose children had been incarcerated expressed a mix of sentiments like guilt and anger. They were concerned they had failed their children. For example, Danny said that maybe his son, Cris, took the wrong path because he did not give him enough attention. He also acknowledges hitting Cris and, three years before the interview, breaking Cris’s nose by butting him with his head, although he recalled that Cris “more or less calmed down” after that. (Danny, forty-eight years old, born in Mexico, undocumented, from Los Banos, California; his son has been in and out of jail for the last five years.) Others interviewed whose relatives were incarcerated sometimes expressed similar feelings of responsibility; for example, Giani shared similar sentiments regarding his son’s incarceration:

I mean, that really worried me when, when the judge told him five. . . . I felt so devastated and I felt so guilty, you know, I felt like I screwed up raising him that, that, that shouldn’t happen. (Giani, sixty years old, from Los Angeles, now living in Merced, California; his son is incarcerated.)

Sometimes other siblings blame their parents for tolerating the behavior of the incarcerated relative. In fact, Danny’s other son, Brian, believes that their mother is responsible for Cris’s bad choices because she spoiled him. He expressed emotional detachment from his brother, saying that he had told his parents

not to . . . have high expectations for Cris, because . . . you believe in him so much that then he’s going to let you down again and it’s going to hurt you. Then, like I said, [our mother] babies him a lot. (Brian, twenty-five years old, born in California, now living in Los Banos.)

While Brian did not express any concern over his brother’s imprisonment, Mariana said knowing that her father was in prison gave her some tranquility. Mariana’s father has been in and out of prison since she was a child, although he was in the community at the time of the interview. She said,

It got to the point, I preferred he was incarcerated because I would not have to worry about him showing up and I did not have to worry about the phone calls. . . . I felt safer when he was locked up. So, in that sense, that’s how I would say it affected me. I felt safer when he was away. When he would come out, my stomach would turn. . . . I would just get really, really paranoid. (Mariana, thirty years old, Los Angeles, California; her father is no longer in prison.)

A common emotion was discomfort about talking about the removed person. In line with prior research, interviewees said they tried not to talk about family members who had been deported, although they did not actually express shame. For example, Joana said,

I usually don’t bring it up. Of course, I’m not ashamed of it. It’s really something that happens to most of our families, most of the people I know. We go through the same experiences; we just don’t talk about it openly. Whenever the situation comes up, of course they talk about it.

Similarly, Lucas explained:

Some people know about it, but we don’t talk much about it. Many people, at least those who are close friends or relatives, know what happened. But, they don’t talk about it. . . . It’s his life, these are private things, personal. (Lucas, twenty-nine years old, born in Mexico, now living in Merced, California; his brother was deported six years ago.)

As we surmised, shame was more common for interviewees related to incarcerated people. Many interviewees suggested that incarceration affects the whole family’s moral standing and, therefore, they prefer not to mention it. Andrea explained:

I was a teacher’s assistant, and it was devastating to me, you know. It was embarrassing, you know, it was my son. I worked for the school district for about six years, someone called me saying we’re here to pick up the dryer, but the SWAT team is at your house. They’re surrounding your house. And they were there for my son, you know. He was in the house, under the bed . . . that was so embarrassing, I had to leave work just to go over there. (Andrea, fifty-one years old, Madera, California; her son was incarcerated eighteen years ago.)

Annie expressed concern about the stigma her brother faces due to his criminal record. She explained:

He’s released. He’s still in the system of probation and constant struggle. So, there’s always that. But just the stigma that comes with being incarcerated and him trying to succeed on his own but still having the title of being a criminal or having been to prison, it’s just–it’s hard. And it kind of leads back to the same paths. So, it’s like an ongoing battle. (Annie, twenty-one years old, born in Las Vegas, now living in California; her brother has been in and out of prison since she was a child, but is now free.)

Whereas both groups had quite different experiences regarding shame and stigma, their experiences of new roles and responsibilities after the removal of a relative were in many ways similar. For example, mothers are expected to take care of children and other relatives left behind. They also must find sources of income to meet the family’s economic needs. Young women are also expected to take care of younger siblings when the mother is at work. Young men are expected to work too. Briana recalled,

I feel like when we were younger, we got a lot of help from my grandparents and uncles and stuff like right, in the beginning, but then right when I turned sixteen, I got my first job and then ever since then I’ve been working and stuff. . . . I need to get it together because I have two younger siblings too and like, you know, so 100 percent, so I feel like because of that, I had to grow up like and I mean, I don’t regret it or anything like that, I know I needed it, but at the same time, trauma makes you [laughs] grow up quicker. (Briana, twenty-one years old, Los Angeles, California; her father was deported eight years ago.)

Many interviewees who were children when a family member was incarcerated or deported had to take on financial and caretaking responsibilities in the home, which can be daunting for young people, and can derail their plans to attend university.25

Gender, age, and immigration status also shape the degree to which people experience stress. Monse, who is twenty years old and was born in Oakland, describes how, after her uncle’s deportation, her entire family was financially impacted. Additionally, Monse, as the only family member with U.S. citizenship, had to deal with the courts and detention centers. Our interviews also revealed how women took on particular roles. For example, Megan explained that she cares for her brother, who is eighteen years older than she is. When her brother was released from prison, she let him come stay with her, despite her reservations. She explained:

And I was like, you know what, eff it, just let him come to my house, let him come and I’ll–I’ll figure it out. And mom was like, are you sure? And I’m like, yeah, I got it. It’s fine. I feel bad, I can’t. My heart is telling me like, you know. And thank God. (Megan, twenty-four years old, Fresno, California; her brother has been in and out of prison as long as she can remember, but he is now free.)

Megan’s testimony shows exceptional compassion for him. But she has a family of her own and is in constant fear he will relapse. Nevertheless, she said proudly that he has been off drugs for years and was now holding a job:

This is the first time he’s been normal. I have him in check. Yeah, this is the first time in a year he’s been sober and everything for a year. Absolutely amazing. He got a job. He bought himself a little moped. Yeah [chuckles]. He’s doing really good.

Megan’s story describes herself, her mother, and her sister taking primary responsibility for supporting her brother in his recovery, although their father is alive. It was common for women interviewees to describe such gendered roles.

Mothers bear a particularly heavy burden. Gianna’s son has been in prison for fifteen years and faces nineteen more years behind bars. She is seventy-six, which means she will be ninety-five on his release if she lives that long. She has been visiting her son since he was first incarcerated. These visits involve expenses such as renting a car, paying for food, and reserving a hotel room. Due to her advanced age, she brings a friend for practical support. Although Gianna has lived many years with this emotional and financial strain, she is considering opening a bank account for her son so that, once he is released, he has something to start his life. She explained what she told her son:

I think that, I think what I want to do is open up a savings account for you. So, you know, another nineteen years maybe we can get through at least something to start our life with over again because you come home, you’ll have what? (Gianna, seventy-six years old, Los Banos, California; her son has been incarcerated for fifteen years.)

People facing deportation and incarceration are often sent to various facilities during the course of their confinement. They usually start off in county jails, which are relatively close to family members. For example, when Joana’s brother was first arrested, he was taken to the Los Angeles County Jail, where she and her mother visited him regularly as it was not too far from their home in Los Angeles. However, once he was taken to prison and then a detention center–both in the rural Central Valley–visiting him became much more challenging. California is a large state, and California state prisoners can easily be sent several hours from their family members. Immigration detention is a federal system, and thus detainees can be sent anywhere in the country. Our interviewees consistently told us that, when their detained relative was sent out of state, they did not visit them.

Deportation and incarceration have significant financial consequences, and our interviewees’ descriptions of financial hardship due to the removal of a household member aligned with prior research on the topic. Our comparison between deported and incarcerated people, however, allowed us to see that deported people were more often employed before their detention than incarcerated people. The loss of this income was particularly severe when deportees are parents. Dalia explained that her husband was deported when she was pregnant. His deportation meant the loss of his income. She explained:

It was hard financially because I was on my own. And then when I had my daughter, it got a little harder. You know, they need diapers and everything. My mom helped a lot there too but it’s the responsibility of the parent too you know. (Dalia, thirty years old; her husband was deported eleven years ago and has returned.)

Although many incarcerated relatives were not major financial contributors prior to their incarceration, even a small contribution could be missed by those left behind. Mariana explained that although her father did not contribute much before, once he was incarcerated, he contributed nothing:

Obviously, there was no money coming in from his end. He was not contributing at all. It just puts more stress on my mom financially and my older brother had to learn how to pay a mortgage and bills when he was only sixteen years old. (Mariana, thirty years old, Los Angeles, California; her father has been in and out of prison since she was a child and is now free.)

Housing instability was a common consequence after deportation. Meli, Luna, and Julia explained how, after their fathers’ removals, their housing conditions changed and their families had to modify their habits. According to Meli,

My mom couldn’t afford the rent. . . . Yeah, basically, my neighborhood friend’s mom let us live with them. She knew about our circumstances, and she would charge my mom rent, but it was cheap. She would charge my mom three hundred dollars for the master bedroom, so it was me, my brother, and my mom. (Meli, twenty years old, Orange County, California; her father was deported seven years ago and has returned.)

Housing instability can be very stressful for families of the deported, especially if they have to move to another city. As Luna explained,

Then he was deported. We had to find out where we were going. We moved in with one of my mother’s nieces in San José. She was very close to my mother. When she knew all this, she said: “You will come with me. I can take you guys.” And all these things. This is how we ended up going back to San José. (Luna, thirty-eight years old, San Jose, California; her father was deported and is still in Mexico.)

Housing vulnerability also forces family members left behind to take on new roles, often unexpected. In Julia’s words:

We had to move from the house we were living in at the time, move to a much smaller house. It was just different: My mom had to work. My older brother had to work. So, it was a change. (Julia, twenty-eight years old, Fresno, California; her father was deported and is still in Mexico.)

Joselyn’s mother was working two jobs to pay rent for the three-bedroom house where the family had lived for many years. When the family was downsized to two members in the house–Joselyn having grown up and moved out and her father having been deported–she did not anticipate getting a cheaper rental. As Joselyn explained,

If they move, she said it’s going to be really inconvenient because we have a lot of stuff because the rent is really expensive in L.A. So even if she does get one bedroom, it will be like the same [cost]. So, she just doesn’t feel it’s the right decision to make to move out. (Joselyn, twenty-seven years old, Los Angeles, California; her father was deported eight years ago and is still in Mexico.)

An additional financial implication of deportation is the cost of visiting a relative in another country or, alternatively, the cost of trying to bring that person back to the United States. Families in the United States often send remittances, make international calls, and make international visits, each of which comes with great economic costs. Roberto explained:

I really–my grandma really wants to go this summer. So, hopefully, I get to go this summer. It’s just that I gotta really get, basically, some money to go. Because traveling you need some money. It’s always about the money. It’s just I hope that I will go traveling and get to see my family again. (Roberto, twenty-five years old, Santa Ana, California; his aunt was deported six years ago and is still in Mexico.)

If relatives left behind decide to bring the person back with help of either smugglers or lawyers, the costs can reach tens of thousands of dollars. Many people make the decision to try to bring their family member back through legal or illegal means because they worry about their relative’s safety in their place of birth. In addition to helping with necessities, Dalia’s mother had taken on a loan. As Dalia said:

My mom actually asked for a loan so I could pay [for legal help to get Dalia’s husband papers]. And I would just pay the loan. . . . And whenever he had to go to Ciudad Juarez [to the U.S. consulate], she would pay for all that.

The payment of bail is in some ways an analogous cost for families of incarcerated people, and it can be very onerous. Jannet says she has been in debt since the first of several periods of incarceration of her son:

And him, he right away called a bails bond[sman], and they called me and I, you know, I got him out. I’ve paid like up to $9,000 for the bails bond and lawyer and whatnot. (Jannet, sixty-two years old, Sanger, California; her son has been in and out of jail and is now free.)

Other interviewees emphasized the long-term cost of sending an incarcerated family member small amounts of money over a long period of time. As Jessie explained, she, her mother, and her sister-in-law pool about $20 a week each to send to her brother in prison.

I kind of pulled that together and I was oh shit it’s almost a $1,000 a year, he’s been in jail for fifteen years [and] we basically put in $15,000 in his books by the time that he has been in jail. That was like, holy shit really that’s like a new car. (Jessie, thirty-four years old, San Francisco, California; her brother was incarcerated sixteen years ago and is still incarcerated.)

Like Dalia’s testimony about the impact of her husband’s deportation, Jessie’s comments suggest a broad impact on many family members.

As we surmised based on the literature, the incarceration and deportation of relatives have similar impacts in many respects. After deportation or incarceration, painful feelings emerge. These feelings have an impact on different dimensions including behavior, educational paths, physical and mental health, and housing conditions. Financial difficulties are similar and long-lasting. These families’ financial difficulties are so overwhelming that they eventually become emotional burdens as families and their members have to change their routines, move from their homes, and take on new roles. The cumulative cost to society is significant.

According to the narratives of the interviewees, individuals with deported families tend to express more fear and anxiety than individuals with incarcerated relatives, who expressed more disappointment, anger, and stigma. Both groups deal with the penitentiary and judicial system and the associated burdens, such as visits, calls, and sending money. When a relative is deported, transnational relationships can lead to emotional and financial strain, and individuals have to live their lives without a loved one. When an incarcerated person returns home, financial and emotional strain can continue, particularly when the released person experiences unemployment.

There are 113 million adults in the United States–nearly one-third of the population–who have an immediate family member who has been to prison or jail. Insofar as Black Americans make up 40 percent of the incarcerated population yet are only 13 percent of the U.S. population, it is clear the burdens of incarceration fall mostly on Black people in the United States.26 Over six million people have been deported from the United States since 1996, three times the sum of all people deported prior to 1996. Nearly all deportees (97 percent) are of Latin American or Caribbean origin, meaning that the burdens of deportation fall mostly on Latinx and Caribbean people.27 Deportation and incarceration are both punitive social policies. They are both being practiced far more today than in any prior period in history. They are both far more common in the United States than in any other country.28 And they both reinforce deep racial divides in the United States by pushing Black and Latinx families further into poverty and creating additional, sometimes insurmountable, barriers for Black and Latinx youth.

Our study included not just parents and children of incarcerated and deported people, but any household member, which allowed us to explore the impact of incarceration and deportation on the entire extended family. We found that the deportation and imprisonment of sons, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, stepparents, and grandchildren can all have significant financial and emotional consequences because families are intertwined: if your uncle is deported, it affects your mother, your grandmother, and your cousins, and our interviewees were clear about the deep and enduring effects of the removal of any relative from their household.


  • 1Tanya Maria Golash-Boza, Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism (New York: New York University Press, 2015); and Daniel Kanstroom, “Deportation, Social Control, and Punishment: Some Thoughts about Why Hard Laws Make Bad Cases,” Harvard Law Review 113 (8) (2000): 1890–1935.
  • 2Tanya Maria Golash-Boza, “The Parallels between Mass Incarceration and Mass Deportation: An Intersectional Analysis of State Repression,” Journal of World-Systems Research 22 (2) (2016): 488.
  • 3Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, “Incarceration & Social Inequality,” Dædalus 139 (3) (2010): 8–19; and Golash-Boza, Deported.
  • 4Becky Pettit and Bryan Sykes, “Incarceration,” State of the Union 2017: The Poverty and Inequality Report (Stanford, Calif.: The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2017).
  • 5Golash-Boza, Deported.
  • 6Megan Comfort, Tasseli McKay, Justin Landwehr, et al., “The Costs of Incarceration for Families of Prisoners,” International Review of the Red Cross 98 (903) (2016): 783–798; and Tanya Golash-Boza, “Punishment Beyond the Deportee: The Collateral Consequences of Deportation,” American Behavioral Scientist 63 (9) (2019): 1331–1349.
  • 7Wing Hong Chui, “‘Pains of Imprisonment’: Narratives of the Women Partners and Children of the Incarcerated,” Child & Family Social Work 15 (2) (2010): 196–205; and Amanda Geller, Carey E. Cooper, Irwin Garfinkel, et al., “Beyond Absenteeism: Father Incarceration and Child Development,” Demography 49 (1) (2012): 49–76.
  • 8Golash-Boza, “Punishment Beyond the Deportee.”
  • 9Geller et al., “Beyond Absenteeism.”
  • 10Danielle H. Dallaire, “Incarcerated Mothers and Fathers: A Comparison of Risks for Children and Families,” Family Relations 56 (5) (2007): 440–453.
  • 11See, respectively, Chui, “Pains of Imprisonment”; Laura E. Enriquez, “Multigenerational Punishment: Shared Experiences of Undocumented Immigration Status within Mixed-Status Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family 77 (4) (2015): 939–953; Alexis M. Silver, Heather Edelblute, Ted Mouw, and Sergio Chávez, “Fractured Families, Connected Community: Emotional Engagement in a Transnational Social Network,” International Migration 56 (6) (2018): 153–168; Stephanie Potochnick, Jen-Hao Chen, and Krista Perreira, “Local-Level Immigration Enforcement and Food Insecurity Risk among Hispanic Immigrant Families with Children: National-Level Evidence,” Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health 19 (5) (2017): 1042–1049; Robert Defina, “The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty,” Crime & Delinquency 59 (4) (2013): 562–586; Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin, “Mass Deportations Would Impoverish U.S. Families and Create Immense Social Costs,” Journal on Migration and Human Security 5 (1) (2017): 1–8; and Jana Sládková, Sandra M. García Mangado, and Johana Reyes Quinteros, “Lowell Immigrant Communities in the Climate of Deportations,” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 12 (1) (2012): 78–95.
  • 12Joanna Dreby, “The Burden of Deportation on Children in Mexican Immigrant Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family 74 (4) (2012): 829–845.
  • 13Kalina Brabeck and Qingwen Xu, “The Impact of Detention and Deportation on Latino Immigrant Children and Families: A Quantitative Exploration,” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 32 (3) (2010): 341–361.
  • 14Susan F. Sharp, Susan T. Marcus-Mendoza, Robert G. Bentley, et al., “Gender Differences in the Impact of Incarceration on the Children and Families of Drug Offenders,” Journal of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Research Consortium 4 (1997): 1–15; and Lois E. Wright and Cynthia B. Seymour, Working with Children and Families Separated by Incarceration: A Handbook for Child Welfare Agencies (Washington, D.C.: Child Welfare League of America, City University of New York, 2000).
  • 15Dreby, “The Burden of Deportation.”
  • 16Golash-Boza, “Punishment beyond the Deportee.”
  • 17Johnna Christian, Jeff Mellow, and Shenique Thomas, “Social and Economic Implications of Family Connections to Prisoners,” Journal of Criminal Justice 34 (4) (2006): 443–452.
  • 18Heather Koball, Randy Capps, Sarah Hooker, et al., Health and Social Service Needs of U.S.-Citizen Children with Detained or Deported Immigrant Parents (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute, 2015).
  • 19Comfort, “The Costs of Incarceration.”
  • 20Christian et al., “Social and Economic Implications of Family Connections to Prisoners.”
  • 21Holly Foster and John Hagan, “The Mass Incarceration of Parents in America: Issues of Race/Ethnicity, Collateral Damage to Children, and Prisoner Reentry,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 623 (1) (2009): 179–194.
  • 22Ibid.
  • 23Schuyler W. Henderson and Charles D. R. Baily, “Parental Deportation, Families, and Mental Health,” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 52 (5) (2013): 451–453.
  • 24San Juanita García, “Living a Deportation Threat: Anticipatory Stressors Confronted by Undocumented Mexican Immigrant Women,” Race and Social Problems 10 (3) (2018): 221–234.
  • 25Golash-Boza, “Punishment beyond the Deportee,” 1340.
  • 26Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020,” press release, Prison Policy Initiative, March 24, 2020.
  • 27Deportation numbers over time and by region calculated using U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2018 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2019), Tables 39 and 41d.
  • 28Tanya Maria Golash-Boza, Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).