Grieving in the “Golden Cage”: How Unauthorized Immigrants Mourn from Afar
By tightening its borders and reducing opportunities for unauthorized immigrants to adjust their status, the United States has created a population of long-term unauthorized immigrants who are now transitioning into older ages. As the undocumented population ages, issues of death and dying are increasingly relevant to them and to their families. Though we know much about how families maintain social and emotional closeness despite geographic distance, death and dying remain undertheorized in transnational family scholarship. This is important because the death of a family member can significantly impact family structure and functions. Based on ethnographic and interview data collected between 2017–2022 with unauthorized Mexican immigrants and their families, this study examines how older undocumented immigrants grapple with the fear of transnational death before it impacts them, how individuals mourn from afar when people they love and rely on in their communities of origin die, and how transnational families are impacted by the death of one of their members, especially when that person played a vital role in maintaining transnational bonds. In addition to contributing to the literature on transnational families, this research advances immigration scholarship by highlighting underappreciated social and emotional penalties imposed by current immigration laws. This study also contributes to our understanding of the importance of death and bereavement by examining the consequences of being prevented from gathering to grieve.