Unauthorized immigrants account for approximately one-fourth of all immigrants in the United States, yet they dominate public perceptions and are at the heart of a policy impasse. Caught in the middle are the children of these immigrants—youth who are coming of age and living in the shadows. An estimated 5.5 million children and adolescents are growing up with unauthorized parents and are experiencing multiple and yet unrecognized developmental consequences as a result of their family's existence in the shadow of the law. Although these youth are American in spirit and voice, they are nonetheless members of families that are "illegal" in the eyes of the law. In this article, the authors develop a conceptual framework to systematically examine the ways in which unauthorized status affects the millions of children, adolescents,and emerging adults caught in its wake. The authors elucidate the various dimensions of documentation status—going beyond the binary of the "authorized"and "unauthorized." An ecological framework brings to the foreground a variety of systemic levels shaping the daily experiences of children and youth as they move through the developmental spectrum. The article moves on to examine a host of critical developmental outcomes that have implications for child and youth well-being as well as for our nation's future.

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