The Land of the Free: Undocumented Families in the Juvenile Justice System

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Abstract

Approximately 8 million Latinos in the United States are undocumented immigrants, nearly half of whom are parents to a minor. Concerns over deportation may affect the way families with undocumented members perceive legal authorities relative to documented immigrant families. Yet, there have been few studies on how Latinos (documented or undocumented) interact with, and form attitudes about, police and no studies on adjudicated youth from families with an undocumented member. To address this gap, 155 pairs (N = 310) of Latina immigrant mothers and their first-time offending sons were interviewed. More than half of the mothers, and 12.3% of youth, were undocumented residents. Controlling for key contextual factors, youth whose mothers were undocumented held more negative attitudes toward the police than youth whose mothers were documented. Youth, however, did not perceive judges differently based on mother's documentation status, suggesting that documentation status relates to police specifically rather than justice system attitudes broadly. The same pattern was noted when considering youth's own documentation status. Because negative attitudes toward police have been associated with decreased reports of victimization and other crimes, policy related to undocumented immigration should consider the unintended effects of such laws.

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