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Relational Legal Consciousness of U.S. Citizenship: Privilege, Responsibility, Guilt, and Love in Latino Mixed-Status Families

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2024


Based on interviews with 100 members of mixed-status families in Los Angeles, California, this article analyzes how U.S. citizen children practice and understand citizenship in the context of punitive laws targeting their loved ones. Participants' narratives of citizenship as privilege, responsibility, and guilt reveal that despite normative conceptions of citizenship as a universally equal status, citizenship intersects with key social markers to determine the contours and inequalities of substantive citizenship. Specifically, U.S. citizens in mixed-status families make sense of their juridical category when they navigate unrealistic aspirations from relatives, maintain silence about undocumented family members' legal status, manage their fear of family separation through deportation, and take on financial and logistical responsibilities prematurely to help relatives. In each of these ways, family proves to be a key site for the social and relational production of citizenship.

© 2019 Law and Society Association.

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This project was funded by a UCLA Hellman Fellowship and by the UCLA Center for American Politics and Public Policy. I wish to thank Katy Maldonado, Jackie Caraves, Eva Morelos, and Ariana Valle for their diligent and astute research assistance on this project, as well as Carlos Colorado for his support. I also benefitted from the anonymous reviewers and Marjorie Faulstich Orellana's feedback on previous drafts.


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