Waiting for Your Return: A Phenomenlogical Study on Parental Deportation and the Impact of the Family and the Parent-Child Attachment Bond

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marriage and Family Therapy


Mona Mittal


Attachment, Deportation, Immigrant, Parent-child bond, Separation

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society


In 2007 it was estimated that 500,000 Latino immigrants entered the U.S. illegally and are now at risk of being deported back to their country of origin. Children of deported Latino immigrants typically stay in the U.S. separated from their deported parent(s). Previous research has focused on parent-child separation when Latino parents immigrate to the U.S. and leave their children behind in their country of origin. While some of the literature has focused on attachment bonds on Latinos, to date none has focused on parent-child separation related to deportation and its impact on the attachment bond. This study used a qualitative methodological approach guided by phenomenology to explore the experiences of children of deported parents. Participants were over the age of 20 (ages ranged from 23-36 years with a mean age of 29), of Latino descent, and were able to vividly recall the experience of having an undocumented parent deported during childhood. Ten participants took part in the study and each responded to an in-depth semi-structured interview. Study results confirmed previous research detailing the impact of separation on the family. The experiences of loss and separation indicated that family and parent-child attachment bonds are uniquely impacted by parent-child separation through deportation. This caused immediate and long-term effects on self, the parent, and the family. Unmitigated by sufficiently developed coping skills, the intense stress caused by the experience left children at risk for feeling isolated, abandoned, hopeless, angry, and scared. The results of this study suggested that the parent-child attachment bond is flexible and impacted by relational interactions and experiences. Implications for marriage and family therapists serving Latino immigrant families dealing with parent-child separation related to deportation are discussed for future research.


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