Guided by the legal violence framework, the purpose of this study was to examine secondary effects of (1) perceived discrimination, (2) social isolation, (3) threat to family, and (4) children’s vulnerability stemming from the immigration policy climate on Latinx immigrants’ trust in local police and perceptions of procedural fairness of the justice system. We hypothesized that Ayón’s four dimensions of immigration policy impacts would be associated with lower confidence that: local police treat immigrants fairly, local police do not use excessive force on immigrants, and courts treat immigrants fairly.
Methods: Data for this study (N=240) were cross-sectional and collected via snowball sampling in conjunction with a community partner in 2021. A Spanish/English survey tool solicited responses from immigrants >18 years who resided in a western state and had family members with an ambiguous legal status (82% female; 60% undocumented; 93% Spanish-dominant). The survey could be taken alone online or with a community navigator via phone or Zoom and covered family and community well-being and perceptions of the current socio-political climate using Ayon’s PIPES measure. To test study hypotheses, linear regression analyses were conducted in SPSS v.28.
Results: On average and holding age, gender, level of education, acculturation, years in U.S., and documentation status constant, perceived discrimination was found to predict attitudes toward the police and courts. Perceived discrimination stemming from the immigration policy climate was associated with lower confidence the local police would treat immigrants fairly (β=-.29, p<.001), lower confidence the local police would not use excessive force on immigrants (β=-.42, p<.001), and lower confidence the courts would treat immigrants fairly (β=-.34, p<.001). Social isolation, threat to family, and children’s vulnerability were not predictive of trust in police and procedural fairness.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings suggest the more discrimination Latinx immigrants perceive as a product of the sociopolitical context, the more they question their ability to trust local law enforcement and the U.S. justice system. In the absence of trust that law enforcement is a just institution, immigrants are less willing to cooperate with the police (Murphy et al., 2022). This suggests that in addition to having damaging psychosocial effects on immigrant families, policies like interagency agreements may have additional collateral effects on overall community safety. This runs counter to rhetoric that ICE increases community safety as evidenced by initiatives titled ‘Secure Communities’ (ICE, 2021). Findings provide social workers with additional critical evidence with which to advocate for long-awaited immigration reform.