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Author Of The Month: Lauren Heidbrink

Published: November 1, 2016

Migrant Youth, Transnational Families and the State: Care and Contested Interests

Lauren Heidbrink, Assistant Professor, Human Development

Originally published in 2014 and recently reissued by the University of Pennsylvania Press, Migrant Youth, Transnational Families and the State: Care and Contested Interests” is Lauren Heidbrink’s first book. It examines the experiences of young people who clandestinely journey to the United States each year from countries around the globe. Many have no parent or legal guardian to provide care and custody when they arrive. Little is known about their experiences in a nation that may simultaneously shelter children while initiating legal proceedings to deport them, nor about their safety or well-being if repatriated. Migrant Youth, Transnational Families and the State draws together a socio-legal history of the immigration policies and contemporary institutional practices to detail how children and move through federal detention facilities, immigration and family courts, federal foster care programs and communities across the U.S. and abroad. Through ethnographic fieldwork, Heidbrink interviews children and their families, attorneys, social workers, policy-makers, law enforcement and diplomats, while foregrounding the voices of migrant children and youth who must navigate a fraught emotional and often contentious legal landscape in the U.S. Cast as victims by humanitarian organizations and delinquents by law enforcement, Heidbrink argues, unaccompanied children challenge Western constructions of child dependence and vulnerability. Heidbrink visited multiple detention facilities across the U.S. where she talked to young people and upon release, later interviewed their families. The crux of her argument is the recognition of young people as transnational actors who challenge the understanding of childhood and youth. “We have a socially and culturally constructed idea of what children can and ought to do,” she explained. “Young migrants challenge the notion childhood is universal.” Heidbrink feels a deep ethical and moral responsibility towards her research participants. “I seek to challenge popular assumptions about unauthorized individuals generally and about unaccompanied children specifically,” she said. “Yet, there are risks in terms of confidentiality and ensuring that their experiences are not taken out of context or used against them.” Ultimately, the book is aimed at students, researchers and those working with young migrants. With an influx of young migrants and families making the national news headlines in 2014, Heidbrink senses a growing awareness of the reasons why

Author of the Month-Robert Schug

young people migrate and the realities confronting them upon arrival. “We should expect a more nuanced understanding of the issue with greater media awareness but we continue to fall into oversimplified tropes,” she said. “Are they criminals in need of detention and deportation or deserving humanitarian victims? By taking young people’s perspectives into consideration, we can recognize that the reality is far more complex and extends well beyond the media’s attention span.” Heidbrink received an undergraduate degree in urban planning, Latin American Studies, and Spanish literature from the University of Virginia-Charlottesville. From there, she earned a joint Master of Arts/Master of Science in International Public Service Management from DePaul University followed by a doctorate in anthropology from Johns Hopkins University in 2010. She joined the Department of Human Development in 2016.