1Migrations from Mexico to the United States represent one of the heaviest migration flows in the world. Joanna Dreby’s study of the problems these migrants’ families have to face focuses above all on migration policy impact on migrant living conditions. Whereas her first book, Divided by Borders: Mexican Migrants and their Children (2010), was on transnational families living on both sides of the border, this work is concerned with immigrant families whose members all live in the United States. Dreby analyses how intra-family relationships are shaped by their members’ legal statuses, showing how, in the context of increasingly tight migration restrictions, legal status has become a social differentiation criterion similar to sex and race, decisive in individual experience from a very young age.
2The first chapter describes the main changes in United States migration policy over the last decades, the effect of which was to strictly limit regularization possibilities for anyone who entered unauthorized after 1986 (i.e., after the Immigration Reform and Control Act or IRCA). The next four chapters – the core of the book – draw on observation and interviews with a few dozen families living in either New Jersey or Ohio. The author examines the impact of policy changes on these families, particularly on their children. For example, intensified deportation of undocumented migrants back to Mexico increases stress levels in the groups studied, including for those with no direct experience of it. Actual deportation considerably worsens family living conditions (loss of main income source, for example) while ties between a deported parent in Mexico and members of his or her family still in the US, especially children, weaken (Chapter 2). Power balances in mixed-status families differ from balances in families where all members have the same status, whether legal or irregular. Dreby’s analysis of negotiations in couples and household task sharing reveals the power that accrues within families to being “legal” (Chapter 3). Status differences within a sibling group combine with other differentiation factors like sex and birth order to impact on parents’ decisions (Chapter 4). However, children’s representations and experiences in connection with irregular status vary considerably by living environment (household size, family origin, and share of undocumented migrants in the neighbourhood or school) (Chapter 5). Like other researchers, the author concludes with a plea for recognizing the central role of legal status in these families and taking it into account systematically in analyses of such situations, in order to better understand its effects. She also calls for a thoroughgoing reform of restrictive migration policies, whose harmful, lasting effects are attested by existing studies.
3This work may be read in several ways. Non-researchers will find the topic, and the endearing families whose lives are followed throughout, highly engaging. The autobiographical dimension and the author’s closeness to the people she meets with make for very lively descriptions. Researchers will find the notes and detailed bibliography useful. But the separation of these materials is somewhat regrettable since all scientific discussion and references to other works on the topic are split off from the main text.
4The multifaceted originality of Everyday Illegal enhances its contribution to current debates. At precisely the time when migration policy impacts are an issue on both sides of the Atlantic, the book demonstrates in extremely concrete terms the devastating effects of the stringent policies applied in the US for several decades. Whatever the initial aims of those policies, their effects on migrant and migrant family lives (family relations, mental health, scholastic performance) make it clear that radical change is needed in international migration management. Another major contribution of this work is to have stressed policy impact on private lives. While existing studies concentrate more on how legal status affects migrants’ economic or political situations (employment, income, participation in politics or associations), Dreby shows family sphere vulnerability to external influences and how the family as an institution produces and reinforces existing inequalities. Last but not least, the study gives a voice to children, a group not often heard from, despite the fact that in the current context – as this work so effectively shows – it is they who are particularly vulnerable. The substantial appendix on methodology, most of which concerns research on and with children, is of great interest in itself, particularly for researchers also studying children.