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History of Family Separation: Contemporary Migrants

An academic guide on the history of family separation


A contemporary example of family separation is the separation of South and Central American migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border. Children were, and continue to be, detained separately from their parents for long periods of time, often resulting in significant trauma or a permanent separation from their families. 


  • Family separation 
  • Migrant children 
  • Central America -- Migrants 
  • South America -- Migrants 
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection 
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 
  • Donald Trump -- Immigration Policy 


migrant family separation

Associated Press. (2018). People held in custody for allegedly entering the United States illegally rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, on Sunday, June 17, 2018. U.S News and World Report. 

Articles and Summaries/Abstracts

Dreby, Joanna. (2015). U.S. immigration policy and family separation: The consequences for children's well-being. Social Science and Medicine 132, 245-251. 

At the start of the twenty-first century, two arms of U.S. immigration policy shape the lives of families and children. The first, enforcement practices, lead to the involuntary separation of parents and children—or the fears of this outcome—when the United States government detains and forcibly removes the parents of U.S. citizen children. The second, the policies which restrict migration to the United States, cause children to experience both long and short term separations when their parents migrate without them. In this paper I use interviews collected between the years of 2003–2006 and 2009–2012 with children and their parents or guardians in both the United States and in Mexico to assess the meanings these two types of separations have for families and the potential impacts for children's well-being. I find that enforcement practices create economic and emotional hardship due to feelings of uncertainty, while restrictive immigration policies lead to resentment among children even post-reunification.

Gonzalez, J.J., Kula, S.M., Gonzalez, V.V., & Paik, S.J. (2017). Context of Latino Students' family separation during and after immigration: Perspectives, challenges, and opportunities for collaborative effortsSchool Community Journal 27(2), 211-228. 

This article discusses the challenges and consequences of family separation and reunification during immigration from Latin America to the U.S. The historical pattern of paternal immigration as well as the recent rise in maternal immigration are discussed. The article addresses the impact of length of separation and how separation impacts family dynamics and school success. Recommendations are given for how schools can address the challenges that students face related to family separation and reunification during immigration including creating and fostering school-based mental health services, teacher training, school-caregiver and school-family partnerships, teacher-student relationships and peer relationships, and other supports.

Relating to the Past


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