Children and Youth: Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised by the Current U.S. Immigration Regime


Marietta Messmer
University of Groningen
the Netherlands

Children and Youth: Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised by the Current U.S. Immigration Regime 

Abstract: Focusing on undocumented immigrant children who were brought to the US by their parents at a young age (the so-called 1.5 generation) and US citizen children living in irregular or mixed-status immigrant families, this essay argues that the current US immigration regime is too strongly adult-centered and in this way not only systematically disenfranchises immigrant children but also structurally disadvantages US citizen children living with at least one undocumented parent because the parent’s irregular status in practice tends to extinguish the child’s citizen status. Analyzing the US’s current immigration regime through the lens of under-age youth can thus function as an enabling prism to highlight the extent to which current US immigration laws and policies collide with both national and international legal practices and produce inherently contradictory or paradoxical situations; it can throw into relief the extent to which children (even US citizen children) lack sufficient agency and voice in current US immigration law; and it can foreground the deleterious consequences of the current immigration regime’s prioritization of deterrence and deportation for one of the most vulnerable segments of the US population for whom not even DACA can provide sufficient protection.


irregular immigrant children; 1.5 generation; limitations of DACA; constructions of illegality; U.S. citizen children’s rights; family unity; best interest principle

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Published : 2018-12-30

MessmerM. (2018). Children and Youth: Disadvantaged and Disenfranchised by the Current U.S. Immigration Regime. Review of International American Studies, 11(2). Retrieved from

Marietta Messmer
University of Groningen  Netherlands

Marietta Messmer is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands). Her publications focus on the political and cultural relations between the U.S. and Latin America; Mexican and Central American migration to the U.S.; gender and violence in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands; as well as theoretical debates on human rights, citizenship, and integration. Her current research project examines the U.S.’s ways of outsourcing and privatizing immigration control measures and the social, economic, legal, and ethical consequences this has for specific migrant and refugee populations, in particular children and adolescents. Her book publications include several co-edited collections on inter-American political, social, and cultural relations, including, most recently,The International Turn in American Studies (2015, with Armin Paul Frank) and America: Justice, Conflict, War (2016, with Amanda Gilroy). Messmer is managing editor of the peer-reviewed book series Interamericana, devoted to publications on the literatures, cultures, and societies of North, Central and South America (Peter Lang Verlag). She also served as President of the Netherlands American Studies Association (2011-2014), as executive board member and treasurer of the International Association of Inter-American Studies (2009-2012), and as Dutch representative on the board of the European Association for American Studies (2009-2016). 

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