Stringent Immigration Enforcement and the Mental Health and Health-Risk Behaviors of Hispanic Adolescent Students
Stringent Immigration Enforcement and the Mental Health and Health-Risk Behaviors of Hispanic Adolescent Students

January 15, 2020

Project Summary

In 2010, Arizona passed the controversial Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, or SB 1070, which made it a misdemeanor for an immigrant to be in Arizona without documentation. In addition, SB 1070 required that state police officers investigate individuals when the police had reasonable suspicion that the individual was an undocumented immigrant. SB 1070 explicitly describes itself as a form of “attrition through enforcement,” meant to make life increasingly difficult for undocumented immigrants until they leave the country.

The authors of this paper investigate the impact of the enforcement of SB 1070 on the mental condition of Hispanic adolescent residents in Arizona, their investment in their own physical health, and their academic performance. Notably, the researchers also examine the spillover that SB 1070 may have on legal residents. If police officers are racially profiling legal Hispanic residents or citizens, then attrition through enforcement strategies may also affect legal residents.

The researchers find that SB 1070 increases the probability that young Hispanic residents report feeling sad and decreases their amount of reported physical activity. They find no evidence, however, of an effect on academic performance associated with SB 1070 or increases in suicidal ideation.

This research demonstrates some of the unintended consequences that can be inflicted upon legally documented permanent residents and citizens when immigration enforcement policies are not carefully crafted. In place of such “attrition through enforcement” strategies, the researchers suggest that social programs that reinforce the importance of minority groups or programs that promote mental health are better policies than attrition by enforcement immigration policy. Ultimately, the research suggests that policymakers should ensure that enforcement policies minimize spillovers onto legal citizens.

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