Immigration reform remains one of the most contentious issues in the United States today. For mixed status families–families that include both citizens and noncitizens–this is more than a political issue: it’s a deeply personal one. Undocumented family members and legal residents lack the rights and benefits of their family members who are US citizens, while family members and legal residents sometimes have their rights compromised by punitive immigration policies based on a strict “citizen/noncitizen” dichotomy.
The personal narratives and academic essays in Living Together, Living Apart: Mixed Status Families and US Immigration Policy are among the first to focus on the daily lives and experiences, as well as the broader social contexts, for mixed status families in the contemporary United States. Threats of raids, deportation, incarceration, and detention loom large over these families. At the same time, their lives are characterized by the resilience, perseverance, and resourcefulness necessary to maintain strong family bonds, both within the United States and across national boundaries.
April Schueths is associate professor of sociology at Georgia Southern University, a licensed social worker, and co-editor with Jodie Lawston of this important forthcoming volume. In this first of two planned Q&As with the co-editors, April Schueths discusses how she came to study mixed-status families and how Living Together, Living Apart came to be.
Q: What inspired you to get into sociology?
April Schueths: Growing up I constantly asked questions and my family always said I cared ‘too much’ about others. Being raised in a traditional working class family I was able to see how socio-economic status, gender, and race impacted peoples’ life chances. This understanding, along with my desire to help others, led me to a career as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker where I worked with individuals, families, communities, and policy. While working on my PhD in sociology at the University of Nebraska I had the privilege of joining the Latino Research Initiative (LRI), a university-community partnership focused on meeting the needs of the Latino community. This supportive group is where I started my research with mixed-status families.
Q: What would you have been if not an academic?
April Schueths: If I hadn’t become an academic I would have probably worked in student affairs, public policy, or a non-profit advocacy group like Appleseed. It’s always been important for me to find ways to challenge unequal power structures with the goal of improving peoples’ lives, especially those who are most vulnerable.
Q: What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about your field and what you do?
April Schueths: Immigration policy is inherently complex. Unfortunately the public often relies on incorrect (and often hateful) media stereotypes that stigmatize immigrants, especially individuals without legal status. Many people don’t realize that harsh immigration policy impacts US citizens. In reality deportation policies have negative consequences for both immigrants and citizens. Mixed-status families often live in fear, face separation, or are forced to live transnationally. Another misconception is that if a person who is undocumented marries a citizen, their legal status will automatically be adjusted and that all of their immigration problems will be resolved. However, immigrants who’ve lived in the US without legal status are automatically barred from living here for a certain amount of time–sometimes life–even when married to a citizen or when they are parents to citizen children.
Q: Why did you want to put together Living Together, Living Apart?
April Schueths: In my social work practice and research I learned just how many families were impacted by punitive immigration policies. I felt compelled to make their experiences known. Thus it was especially important to include the narratives written by individuals in mixed-status families, along with the academic chapters. Most people not connected to these issues have very little understanding of the hardships mixed-status families face, and in many cases their positions are based on incorrect stereotypes. After reading this collection, I hope that readers understand how complex the issues of immigration and family are, but most importantly I want people to empathize with families and to see that their human rights are often violated. I want people to care.
Q: What are you reading right now?
April Schueths: Recently I’ve read Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families by Joanna Dreby, and Forgotten Citizens: Deportation, Children, and the Making of American Exiles and Orphans by Luis Zaya, both of which I highly recommend. For fun I’m also reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg.