Removing immigrant fathers harms sexual health and wellbeing of their daughters

New research from Kate Coleman-Minahan of the University of Colorado School of Nursing and Goleen Samari of ANSIRH explores the quality of relationships between fathers and daughter in Mexican-origin immigrant families and how those relationships influence sexual and reproductive health. Their study shows that policies that keep families together and give them access to employment may directly affect children and adolescents. Exploitation of immigrants and policies that separate families undermine their sexual and reproductive health.

The daughters who spoke to researchers usually described their relationships with their fathers in positive terms. They talked about their fathers as sacrificing for the family by working hard for long hours, engaging in their education and providing love and affection. They refuted stereotypes about Mexican immigrant fathers as sexist and emotionally unavailable.

The minority of women who described hostile or distant relationships talked about their fathers working long hours and facing economic exploitation on the job. The poor working conditions sapped energy and time that fathers could have spent with their children.

Coleman-Minahan and Samari found that adolescents in low-income families and those separated from a parent were more likely to become sexually active earlier. Early sexual initiation increases the risk of teen pregnancies, and Latina adolescents currently have the highest birth rates in the country. Adolescents need supportive family environments to encourage smart sexual decision making. Good father-daughter relationships, in which fathers encourage academic success and provide emotional support, may help adolescents delay sex. Those close relationships are difficult to maintain when a child is separated from a parent.

Immigration reforms like the DREAM Act that keep families together can help improve adolescent health. Legislative protections can decrease the fear of deportation that increases anxiety and depression, leading to negative health consequences. Having access to legal employment can prevent workplace exploitation and strengthen family relationships. These protections prevent separation of parents and children, and are crucial to their wellbeing.