The Phenomenon of Mixed-Status Families Among Farmworkers

A man and his wife, their four kids, and the kids' grandmother
A farmworker family – three generations

If you are at all tuned into the debate about immigration, you’ve surely heard the term mixed-status before.  But what does that mean?  How does it happen?  And what are the implications – especially for farmworkers?

Mixed-status refers to the citizenship of a family household unit in which everyone does not have the same type of immigration status.

For example, the Atlantic reported on a boy whose five siblings were all US-born citizens, while he was not.  His mom had gone back to their native Mexico when she was three months pregnant, returning to the US with him and his siblings when he was two years old.

89.3 KPCC describes several citizens living with an undocumented spouse or partner who is unable to adjust their status.  In one person’s words, this “mixed citizenship status within a family causes frustration, uncertainty, secrecy, lies. It’s a burden at times and something that is thought about every single day.”


Farmworker in a migrant camp in southern California.
Farmworker in a migrant camp in southern California. Photo credit: Jose Miguel Velez


Mixed status families are common in the U.S.  According to an analysis by the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, or CSII, and the Center for American Progress, “16.7 million people in the country have at least one unauthorized family member living with them in the same household.”  If we consider extended families, the phenomenon is even more widespread.

The most common scenario, of course, is of U.S. citizen children with undocumented parents.  The American Psychological Association reports that 79% of the people living with an undocumented relative in the US from 2009-2013 were children.

Farmworkers are hard-hit by this reality.  According to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), only about half of farmworkers are documented. 62% of farmworkers had one or two children living with them; others had more.  Assuming these children are citizens (anecdotally, we know many are), these households would also qualify as mixed-status.


Number of Minor Children in the Household of Farmworkers, 2015-2016 Credit: US Department of Labor – Employment and Training Administration – National Agricultural Workers Survey


For these children and their parents, mixed status results in uneven access to the benefits and privileges of US residency.  Some family members can get formal healthcare; others cannot.  Some can afford to go to university; others cannot.  Some can get any job they choose to pursue; others are doomed to only those occupations that don’t ask for documents.

Eduardo from Immokalee described his dad’s health as an undocumented farmworker in our 2012 essay contest:

“My dad gets hurt often while working in the fields.  Last year.. something happened that my dad was not able to open his eye. My dad was sad because he had to stay home and not work making money for our family.  Another time my dad got stung by a bee and his neck swelled, and yet another time he almost lost his thumb because he smashed it against something at work. Each time something happened to him, he was not able to go to the hospital.”


CIFC Contest 2018
Our 2018 Art & Essay Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Children Contest winners


Farmworker children in our contests have also spoken about siblings who have to change jobs every three months to avoid being detected as work-unauthorized.  This dramatically limits their opportunities to advance in life, especially when compared with their work-authorized siblings and family members.

But in a close-knit family, the trials of one are the trials of all.  Imagine if it was your mother, brother, cousin or dad at risk of being deported – a situation in which you may not know where they are, how they’re doing, or when you’ll see them again.  You would feel extremely anxious, too.  This anxiety gets expressed in immigrant families’ lives in many ways:  difficulty sleeping; decreased appetite; headaches; high blood pressure; poor mental health; high rates of suicide; lower educational achievements; low self-esteem.

Here at AFOP, we care about the physical, mental, and emotional health of immigrants and seasonal farmworker families.  After all, we have them to thank for the food on our tables and grocery store shelves – food they often can’t afford to eat themselves.  That’s why we provide health & safety training to all farmworkers, regardless of immigration status.


Art by 13-year-old Nini in Arizona. Submitted in 2013.


We also advocate for farmworker children through many channels, including our annual Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Children Art & Essay Contest.  Every year without fail, these children write and draw about their hopes for the future – a future in which they and their family won’t have to live or work in the shadows.  It is integral to our mission as an organization to help make those dreams a reality.

Click here to help AFOP Health & Safety in our work supporting farmworker families.



The National Center for Institutional Diversity

Migration Policy Institute

Forbes magazine


89.3 KPCC

National Agricultural Workers Survey 2015-16