Abstract: Health and Mental Health Effects of Local Immigration Enforcement (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

Health and Mental Health Effects of Local Immigration Enforcement

Saturday, January 13, 2018: 10:51 AM
Archives (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Julia Shu-Huah Wang, PhD, Assistant Professor, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Neeraj Kaushal, PhD, Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
We study the effect of two local immigration enforcement policies – Section 287(g) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Secure Communities Program (SC) – that have escalated fear and risk of deportation among the undocumented on the health and mental health outcomes of Latino immigrants living in the United States. In 1996, the US government passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). Section 287(g) of IIRIRA grants state and local jurisdictions the choice to enter into agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. The number of localities pursuing 287(g) agreements has increased from two in 2002 to 76 in 2009 across 26 states. Since 2008, the Secure Communities Program gradually replaced 287(g) and was implemented in all counties nation-wide in 2013. As a result, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants are removed annually from prison or during policing operations. 

We use the restricted-use National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data (2000-2012) and link county-level 287(g) policy variables, and we adopt a difference-in-difference research design. Health is measured by self-rated health, and mental health is measured by Kessler-6 Psychological Distress Scale. The analytic sample is restricted to adults aged 18-60 born in Latin America living in households with at least one noncitizen family member. Ordinary least square models with county and year fixed effects are used to measure the health effects.

Results suggest that SC increased the proportion of Latino immigrants with mental health distress by 2.2 percentage points (14.7 percent); Task Force Enforcement under Section 287(g) worsened their mental health distress scores by 15 percent (0.08 standard deviation); Jail Enforcement under Section 287(g) increased the proportion of Latino immigrants reporting fair or poor health by 1 percentage point (11.1 percent) and lowered the proportion reporting very good or excellent health by 4.8 to 7.0 percentage points (7.8 to 10.9 percent). These findings are robust across various sensitivity checks.  

There is little national-level scientific research on how immigration policy environment affects immigrant health, in general, and how state- and local-activism on immigration enforcement has influenced the health behaviors, health and mental health of immigrant families. This research bridges this critical knowledge gap and offers evidence to assess the full range of costs and benefits of immigration enforcement policies.