Restrictive State Immigration Policies and Immigrant Population Shifts: Using Geospatial Mapping Techniques to Inform Policy and Practice
Method: Quantitative geospatial policy analysis was conducted on the National Conference of State Legislatures’ database of 578 immigration related laws passed from 2008-2010. Restrictive legislation contained restrictive provisions relating to law enforcement, education, social services, health care, employment, or transportation. The number of types of restrictive provisions per state was calculated to create a ‘state severity index’ representing each state’s cumulative policy burden upon immigrants. Unemployment rates from 2008-2010 provided a state-level economic indicator. State-level indicators to measure immigration population shifts from 2007-2011 included the percent of the national population of (a) foreign-born people, (b) foreign-born noncitizens, and (c) predominantly monolingual Spanish speakers. Population shifts were overlaid on both the state severity index and the mean unemployment rate. Severity and unemployment were then intersected to create four discrete categories of states, population shifts were overlaid to reveal patterns in population shifts at the intersection of policy and unemployment.
Results: 10 states had high severity indices. The distribution of restrictive state laws (z = 3.09, p< .01), unemployment rates (z=3.04, p<.01), and proportional shifts in the foreign-born population (z=1.70, p<.10) and foreign-born noncitizens (z=1.70, p<.10) displayed significant and marginally significant spatial autocorrelations. These spatial indicators were more related to neighboring states than could happen by chance, which indicates clustering. Our hypothesis was partially supported by the analysis. States with the greatest severity indices experienced declines in their immigrant population; however immigration population declines were not isolated to these states. The intersection of unemployment rates and severity indices were associated with an apparent shift in the immigrant population away from states along the southern border to those in the northern plains and mountain regions.
Conclusions and Implications: This study reveals that restrictive state policies are associated with immigrant population shifts away from the southern border-states and towards the northern plains and mountain states. These regions are not traditional destination states and may be unprepared to assist immigrants in meeting their social welfare needs. These findings justify the call for comprehensive federal immigration reform rather than a disparate state-level approach. The wide distribution of restrictive states policies may result in increased experiences of discrimination. Restrictive immigration policies targeting undocumented immigrants have been demonstrated to affect immigrants regardless of status (Author et al., 2013). Mapping restrictive state immigration policies can help social workers serving immigrants to understand the policy context of their practice, and to advocate for humane policy reform.