Fear of Deportation and Perceptions of Law Enforcement Among Latinos in the United States
This study examined the relationship between the fear of deportation and perceptions of law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and the willingness to report crimes among Latinos in the U.S. Federal policies under the Bush Administration allowed immigration enforcement to criminalize immigration violations (Androff et al., 2011; Hernandez, 2005) and deportations of undocumented immigrants have increased during the Obama Administration (Pew Hispanic Center, 2011). Previous studies have found that immigration enforcement has led to decreased trust in police among Latinos (Menjívar & Bejarano, 2004). Since those studies were conducted, however, policies in numerous states across the U.S. have empowered state and local authorities to detain and arrest immigrants (Androff et al, 2011). Understanding the relationship between increased immigration enforcement and fear of deportation may inform immigration policy debates and promote public safety in Latino communities.
It was hypothesized that Latinos with greater fear of deportation would report: 1) less confidence that police would not use excessive force; 2) less confidence that police would treat Latinos fairly; 3) less confidence that the courts would treat Latinos fairly; and 4) a lower likelihood of reporting crimes to police.
Data for this study were drawn from the 2008 Pew Hispanic Center survey of a disproportionate stratified nationally representative sample of 2,015 Latino adults living in the U.S. The sample consisted of 1,302 (64.7%) foreign born Latinos, 711 (35.3%) U.S. born Latinos; 966 (47.9%) males, and 1,049 (52.1%) females. The mean age was 44; over 62% of the participants had a high school diploma/GED or lower; and 60% had an annual income of less than $40,000. Multivariate OLS linear regressions examined the relationship between fear of deportation (controlling for gender, age, and years in the U.S.) and the dependent variables.
Multivariate OLS linear regression analyses of the data supported the four hypotheses. Participants who had a greater fear of deportation reported: 1) less confidence that police would not use excessive force (p<.10); 2) less confidence that police would treat Latinos fairly (p<.05); 3) less confidence that the courts would treat Latinos fairly (p<.01); and 4) a lower likelihood of reporting crimes (p<.01).
Conclusion & Implications:
Latinos with a greater fear of deportation report diminished confidence in the civic institutions responsible for their public safety. New anti-immigration policies and increased deportations may exacerbate distrust of law enforcement and create unsafe communities if Latinos who fear deportation avoid reporting crimes. Social work practitioners can help address this issue and improve the relationship between law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and the Latino community by: delivering cultural competence training for police and criminal justice personnel; educating Latinos about how to protect their rights when interacting with police and the criminal justice system; and by advocating for immigration reform that can help improve public safety and reduce fear in Latino communities. As enforcement of immigration policies continue, social work researchers should continue to investigate this issue and work to develop interventions promoting Latino civic engagement and public safety in Latino communities.