Being Present when Forced to be Absent
A growing number of families in the U.S. are of mixed-status with at least one undocumented relative who is threatened by deportation. Many also are simultaneously involved in cross-border or transnational families. Despite these challenging contexts,these families rarely are attended to in psychological research. This dissertation presents findings from research with nine intergenerational Maya Kiche transnational and mixed-status families who live across the United States and Guatemala. The study explored relationships within these families and how they are maintained in contexts of family separation as influenced by U.S. immigration and deportation systems. A grounded theory analysis of in-depth interviews with at least one U.S.-based undocumented migrant parent, and one Guatemala-based child and caregiver from each family was developed to better understand and characterize the ways in which diverse family members perceive and experience their family relationships and separations. The middle-range theory developed from this study is called "being present when forced to be absent." This theory describes the main strategies family members in Guatemala and the U.S. utilize to maintain relationships over time and across space, which include communication, remittances or financial support, and the provision of life advice or consejos. Findings suggest that while these strategies mitigate challenges experienced in transnational family relationships, families view contextual strains in Guatemala and the U.S. as continuing to influence their cross-border relationships and family processes. Finally, this study showed that families leverage an additional strategy identified as reconfiguring the transnational family, wherein they alter the transnational configuration of their family to confront challenges of family separation. This study shows that U.S.-based undocumented migrant parents and children and elected caregivers in Guatemala contribute to their transnational families in unique ways. It also supports previous research arguing that immigration and deportation policies violate the rights of families from the global south who migrate north to support their relatives in origin countries. Implications for comprehensive immigration reform and new directions for research in psychology with migrant and transnational families are discussed.