When the American Dream Becomes a Nightmare

Monday, June 13, 2016: 3:40 PM
F55 (Huntsman Hall)

Author(s): Susan Averett; Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes; Mehmet Yaya

Discussant: Scott J. Adams

Immigration enforcement in the US has climbed to extraordinary levels since the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. A wide range of programs and tactics at the local, state and federal levels –ranging from 287(g) agreements between Immigration Customs Enforcement and local police or Secure Communities at the local level, to omnibus immigration laws and employment verification mandates at the state-level or border patrol operations, such as Operation Streamline, at the federal level– have been adopted in line with the “consequence delivery system” model of the Department of Homeland Security. As a result, apprehensions and deportations of unauthorized immigrants have reached an unprecedented level in U.S. history. During the Obama Administration, a record number of 1.8 million unauthorized immigrants have been deported, leading many to label President Obama as the “deporter-in-chief” (The Economist, 2014).
Not surprisingly, immigrants report increased fear of profiling and deportation (Hacker et al. 2011). Some researchers note the negative consequences that living under increased fear of deportation has on children with unauthorized parents –a group consisting of an estimated 5.5 million children and, of whom, three-fourths are U.S. citizens (Passel and Cohn 2009a). Fear, isolation and economic hardship endured by parents translate into depression, separation anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders and suicidal thoughts among children (Capps et al. 2007, Chaudry et al. 2011, Yoshikawa and Kalil 2011); but also among other adult natives or naturalized immigrants in the household by restricting their mobility, socialization, employment, income, access to health care and health (Satinsky et al. 2013).
In this paper, we examine the impact of enhanced local and state immigration enforcement on the mental and physical health of native children residing in families where at least one adult member is a likely unauthorized immigrant. We combine micro-level data from the 2006 through 2013 Household, Person, Family and Sample Adult Files of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and local and state-level data on the implementation of more stringent immigration enforcement measures. We then compare changes in the mental and physical health of native children with an unauthorized parent to changes experienced by their counterparts residing with native or naturalized parents before and after the implementation of stringent immigration enforcement measures. Because immigration legal status is not available in most representative surveys, including the NHIS, following other researchers we use information on the parental Hispanic/Mexican ethnicity and their lack of citizenship as traits predictive of their undocumented status (Passel and Cohn 2009b, 2011). A number of robustness checks using other control groups, as well as corrections for the endogenous nature of immigrants’ residential choices following the rolling implementation of tougher immigration enforcement measures, are performed.
Overall, the study informs about a potential negative externality from immigration enforcement practices that may have spillover effects on the health of native children. Understanding the impact of these policies is crucial.