Separated Families: Barriers to Family Reunification After Deportation

Deborah A. Boehm
University of Nevada, Reno

Credit: A3pfamily/Shutterstock

Separated Families: Barriers to Family Reunification After Deportation


This paper outlines the complexities — and unlikelihood — of keeping families together when facing, or in the aftermath of deportation. After discussing the context that limits or prevents reunification among immigrant families more generally, I outline several of the particular ways that families are divided when a member is deported. Drawing on case studies from longitudinal ethnographic research in Mexico and the United States, I describe: 1) the difficulties in successfully canceling deportation orders, 2) the particular limitations to family reunification for US citizen children when a parent is deported, and 3) the legal barriers to authorized return to the United States after deportation. I argue that without comprehensive immigration reform and concrete possibilities for relief, mixed-status and transnational families will continue to be divided. Existing laws do not adequately address family life and the diverse needs of individuals as members of families, creating a humanitarian crisis both within and beyond the borders of the United States. The paper concludes with recommendations for immigration policy reform and suggestions for restructuring administrative processes that directly impact those who have been deported and their family members.

Author Names

Deborah A. Boehm

Journal Journal on Migration and Human Security
Date of Publication 2017
Pages 401-416
DOI 10.1177/233150241700500209
Volume 5
Issue Number 2