The Immigrant 'Other': Racialized Identity and the Devaluation of Immigrant Family Relations

60 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2014 Last revised: 22 Dec 2016

See all articles by Anita Ortiz Maddali

Anita Ortiz Maddali

Northern Illinois University - College of Law

Date Written: February 3, 2014


This Article explores how current terminations of undocumented immigrants’ parental rights are reminiscent of historical practices that removed early immigrant and Native American children from their parents in an attempt to cultivate an Anglo-American national identity. Today, children are separated from their families when courts terminate the rights of parents who have been, or who face, deportation. Often, biases toward undocumented parents affect determinations concerning parental fitness in a manner that, while different, reaps the same results as the removal of children from their families over a century ago. This Article examines cases in which courts terminated the parental rights of undocumented parents because of biases about the parents’ immigration status, language, race, culture, and the belief that life in the United States is better for children than returning with a parent to a poorer country, such as Mexico or Guatemala. This Article suggests that these termination decisions are reflective of tensions around identity and how to cultivate a preferred American identity. Further, this Article explores how using the law to cultivate a preferred identity can subvert the constitutional rights of undocumented parents and undermine their family relationships.

Keywords: undocumented immigrants, termination of parental rights

JEL Classification: K37

Suggested Citation

Maddali, Anita Ortiz, The Immigrant 'Other': Racialized Identity and the Devaluation of Immigrant Family Relations (February 3, 2014). Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 89, 2014, Available at SSRN: or

Anita Ortiz Maddali (Contact Author)

Northern Illinois University - College of Law ( email )

Swen Parson Hall
DeKalb, IL 60115
United States
815.753.0207 (Phone)

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