Race and Social Problems

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 221–234 | Cite as

Living a Deportation Threat: Anticipatory Stressors Confronted by Undocumented Mexican Immigrant Women

  • San Juanita GarcíaEmail author


Previous sociological research shows that exposure to stress varies by individuals’ social statuses and is a central mechanism in producing mental health disparities. This line of research suggests that ethnoracial groups are more exposed to racial discrimination, thus negatively impacting their mental health. There has also been a growing literature showing how legal status impacts the mental health of immigrants and their families. However, the sociology of mental health and migration literature has largely remained disparate. This paper bridges these literatures to highlight how living a deportation threat manifests itself as an anticipatory stressor that negatively impacts undocumented Mexican migrant women’s access to resources, social relationships, and social roles. Based on 30 semi-structured in-depth interviews with undocumented Mexican immigrant women from Houston, Texas, my findings reveal living a deportation threat is a perpetual anticipatory stressor that intensifies the effects of avoiding authorities, family fragmentation, and economic uncertainty. I argue this anticipatory stressor transforms into a chronic stressor that undocumented Mexican women confront daily. By situating this study within an anti-immigrant social context, it highlights the social processes and mechanisms that exacerbate the stressors undocumented Mexican immigrant women confront.


Deportation threat Anticipatory stressors Anti-immigrant sentiment Undocumented Mexican immigrant women Stress process 



I thank the women that participated in this study. Without them this project would be non-existent. I also thank Zulema Valdez, Rogelio Sáenz, Verna Keith, and Holly Foster for their continued support during all phases of this research. I am also grateful to Joseph Morrissey, Eugenia Conde, Will Hall, and David Chow for their thoughtful comments. Finally, I am grateful to the following funding agencies: American Sociological Association Minority Fellowship Program; Ford Foundation; Race and Ethnic Studies Institute at Texas A&M University; Department of Sociology at Texas A&M University; and the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University.


  1. Abrego, L. J. (2011). Legal consciousness of unauthorized Latinos: Fear and stigma as barriers to claims-making for first- and 1.5-generation immigrants. Law & Society Review, 45(2), 337–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abrego, L. J. (2014). Sacrificing families: Navigating laws, labor, and love across borders. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Abrego, L. J., & Menjívar, C. (2011). Immigrant Latina mothers as targets of legal violence. International Journal of Sociology of the Family, 37(1), 9–26.Google Scholar
  4. Aneshensel, C. S. (2015). Sociological inquiry into mental health: The legacy of Leonard I. Pearlin. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 56(2), 166–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aneshensel, C. S., & Avison, W. R. (2015). The stress process: An appreciation of Leonard I. Pearlin. Society and Mental Health, 5(2), 67–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Arbona, C., Olvera, N., Rodriguez, N., Hagan, J., Linares, A., & Wiesner, M. (2010). Acculturative stress among documented and undocumented Latino immigrants in the United States. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 32(3), 362–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bacon, D., & Hing, B. O. (2013). The rise and fall of employer sanctions. In J. A. Dowling & J. X. Inda (Eds.), Governing immigration through crime: A reader (pp. 149–164). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bean, F. D., Brown, S. K., & Bachmeier, J. D. (2015). Parents without papers: The progress and pitfalls of Mexican American integration. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  9. Berger Cardoso, J., Scott, J. L., Faulkner, M., & Barros Lane, L. (2018). Parenting in the context of deportation risk. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80(2), 301–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brondolo, E., Gallo, L. C., & Myers, H. F. (2009). Race, racism and health: Disparities, mechanisms, and interventions. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 32, 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cavazos-Rehg, P. A., Zayas, L. H., & Spitznagel, E. L. (2007). Legal status, emotional well-being and subjective health status of Latino immigrants. Journal of the National Medical Association, 99(10), 1126.Google Scholar
  12. Charmaz, K. (2008). Grounded theory as an emergent method. Handbook of Emergent Methods, 155, 172.Google Scholar
  13. Chaudry, A. (2011). Children in the aftermath of immigration enforcement. The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 4(1), 137–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chavez, L. (1998). Shadowed lives: Undocumented immigrants in American society. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.Google Scholar
  15. Chavez, L. (2013). The Latino threat: Constructing immigrants, citizens, and the nation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Chen, H.-Y., & Boore, J. R. P. (2009). Translation and back-translation in qualitative nursing research: Methodological review. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19, 234–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Coutin, S. B. (2003). Legalizing moves: Salvadoran immigrants’ struggle for U.S. residency. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  18. Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  19. Creswell, J. W. (2015). A concise introduction to mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  20. De Genova, N. (2002). Migrant ‘illegality’ and deportability in everyday life. Annual Review of Anthropology, 31, 419–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. De Genova, N. (2014). Deportation. In B. Anderson & M. Keith (Eds.), Migration: A COMPAS anthology (pp. 19–20). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. De Genova, N., & Peutz, N. (2010). The deportation regime: Sovereignty, space, and the freedom of movement. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Donato, K. M., & Armenta, A. (2011). What we know about unauthorized migration. Annual Review of Sociology, 37, 529–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dreby, J. (2012). The burden of deportation on children in Mexican immigrant families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(4), 829–845.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dreby, J. (2015). Everyday illegal: When policies undermine immigrant families. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  26. Fix, M. E., & Zimmermann, W. (2001). All under one roof: Mixed-status families in an era of reform. International Migration Review, 35(2), 397–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Flippen, C. (2015). The implications of migrant remittances and the transnational elder care for the financial security of low-income Hispanic immigrants in the United States. In W. A. Vega, K. S. Markides, J. L. Angel & F. M. Torres-Gil (Eds.), Challenges of Latino aging in the Americas (pp. 121–140). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  28. Gleeson, S. (2012). Conflicting commitments: The politics of enforcing immigrant worker rights in San Jose and Houston. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Golash-Boza, T. M. (2012). Immigration nation: Raids, detentions, and deportations in post-9/11 America. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Golash-Boza, T. M. (2015). Deported: Immigrant policing, disposable labor and global capitalism. New York: NYU Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Golash-Boza, T. M., & Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (2013). Latino immigrant men and the deportation crisis: A gendered racial removal program. Latino Studies, 11(3), 271–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gonzales, R. G. (2015). Lives in limbo: Undocumented and coming of age in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  33. Gonzales, R. G., Suárez-Orozco, C., & Dedios-Sanguineti, M. C. (2013). No place to belong: Contextualizing concepts of mental health among undocumented immigrant youth in the United States. American Behavioral Scientist, 57, 1174–1199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gonzalez-Barrera, A., & Krogstad, J. M. (2014). U.S. deportations of immigrants reach record high in 2013. Washington, DC: The Pew Hispanic Research Center. Retrieved August 10, 2015, from
  35. Hacker, K., Chu, J., Arsenault, L., & Marlin, R. P. (2012). Provider’s perspectives on the impact of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity on immigrant health. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 23(2), 651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hagan, J. M. (1998). Social networks, gender, and immigrant incorporation: Resources and constraints. American Sociological Review, 63(1), 55–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hardy, L. J., Getrich, C. M., Quezada, J. C., Guay, A., Michalowski, R. J., & Henley, E. (2012). A call for further research on the impact of state-level immigration policies on public health. American Journal of Public Health, 102(7), 1250–1253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (1994). Gendered transitions: Mexican experiences of immigration. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. Hsiung, P.-C. (2008). Teaching reflexivity in qualitative interviewing. Teaching Sociology, 36(3), 211–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Jiménez, T. (2010). Replenished ethnicity: Mexican Americans, immigration, and identity. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  41. Joseph, T. D. (2011). My life was filled with constant anxiety: Anti-immigrant discrimination, undocumented status, and their mental health implications. Race Social Problems, 3, 170–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 617–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kessler, R. C., & McLeod, J. D. (1984). Sex differences in vulnerability to undesirable life events. American Sociological Review, 49(5), 620–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Krieger, N. (1999). Embodying inequality: A review of concepts, measures, and methods for studying health consequences of discrimination. International Journal of Health Services, 29(2), 295–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kulish, N., Dickerson, C., & Nixon, R. (2017). Immigration agents discover new freedom to deport under Trump. The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from
  46. Lind, D. (2014). Obama is deporting more immigrants than any other president in history: Explained. Vox. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from
  47. Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. (1995). Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 80–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Magaña, C. G., & Hovey, J. D. (2003). Psychosocial stressors associated with Mexican migrant farmworkers in the midwest United States. Journal of Immigrant Health, 5, 75–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Marmot, M. (2004). Status syndrome: How social standing affects our health and longevity. New York: Henry Holt & Co.Google Scholar
  50. Massey, D. S., & Pren, K. A. (2012). Unintended consequences of US immigration policy: Explaining the post-1965 surge from Latin America. Population and Development Review, 38(1), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Massey, D. S., & Sánchez, M. R. (2010). Brokered boundaries: Creating immigrant identity in anti-immigrant times. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  52. Menjívar, C. (2011). Enduring violence: Ladina women’s lives in Guatemala. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Menjívar, C., & Abrego, L. (2009). Parents and children across borders: Legal instability and intergenerational relations in Guatemalan and Salvadoran families. In N. Foner (Ed.), Across generations: Immigrant families (pp. 160–189). New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Menjívar, C., & Bejarano, C. (2004). Latino immigrants’ perceptions of crime and the police authorities: A case study from the Phoenix metropolitan area. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 27(1), 120–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  56. Miles, M. B., Huberman, M. A., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  57. Morrow, S. L. (2005). Quality and trustworthiness in qualitative research in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Ngai, M. N. (2004). Impossible subjects: Illegal aliens and the making of modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Parton, H. D. (2017). Trump takes the “shackles” off: Mass deportations begin as the world looks on in outrage. Salon. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from
  60. Pearlin, L. I. (1989). The sociological study of stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 30(3), 241–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pearlin, L. I., & Bierman, A. (2013). Current issues and future directions in research into the stress process. In C. S. Aneshensel, J. C. Phelan & A. Bierman (Eds.), Handbook of the sociology of mental health (pp. 325–340). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Pearlin, L. I., Menaghan, E. G., Lieberman, M. A., & Mullan, J. T. (1981). The stress process. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 22(4), 337–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Perez, M. C., & Fortuna, L. (2005). Psychosocial stressors, psychiatric diagnoses and utilization of mental health services among undocumented immigrant Latinos. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Services, 3(1–2), 107–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Peutz, N. (2006). Embarking on an anthropology of removal. Current Anthropology, 47(2), 217–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Ramirez, H., & Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (2009). Mexican immigrant gardeners: entrepreneurs or exploited workers? Social Problems, 56(1), 70–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rendón, M. G. (2014). “Caught up”: How urban violence and peer ties contribute to high school noncompletion. Social Problems, 61(1), 61–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Rodriguez, N. (1993). Economic restructuring and Latino growth in Houston. In J. Moore & R. Pinderhughes (Eds.), In the barrios: Latinos and the underclass debate (pp. 101–128). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  68. Rodriguez, N. (1999). U.S. immigration and changing relations between African Americans and Latinos. In C. Hirschman, P. Kasinitz, & J. DeWind (Eds.), The handbook of international migration: The American experience (pp. 423–432). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  69. Sherraden, M., & Barrera, R. E. (1995). Qualitative research with an understudied population: In-depth interviews with women of Mexican descent. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 17, 452–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Singer, E., Hoewyk, J. V., Gebler, N., Raghunathan, T., & McGonagle, K. (1999). The effect of incentives on response rates in Interviewer-mediated surveys. Journal of Official Statistics, 15(2), 217–230.Google Scholar
  71. Sternberg, R. M. (2010). The plight of transnational Latina mothers: Mothering from a distance. Field Actions Science Reports. The Journal of Field Actions (Special Issue 2).Google Scholar
  72. Talavera, V., Núñez, G. G., & Heyman, J. (2010). Deportation in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands: Anticipation, experience, and memory. In N. De Gonova & N. P. Durham (Eds.), The deportation regime: Sovereignty, space, and the freedom of movement (pp. 166–195). Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Thoits, P. A. (2010). Stress and health: Major findings and policy implications. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(Extra Issue), S41–S53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Toomey, R. B., Umaña-Taylor, A. J., Williams, D. R., Harvey-Mendoza, E., Jahromi, L. B., & Updegraff, K. A. (2014). Impact of Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law on utilization of health care and public assistance among Mexican-origin adolescent mothers and their mother figures. American Journal of Public Health, 104(S1), S28–S34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. US Department of Homeland Security. (2014). Immigration enforcement actions: 2013. Annual Report, Office of Immigration Statistics. Retrieved September 10, 2015, from
  76. Viruell-Fuentes, E. A., Miranda, P. Y., & Abdulrahim, S. (2012). More than culture: Structural racism, intersectionality theory, and immigrant health. Social Science & Medicine, 75, 2099–2106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wheaton, B. (1990). Life transitions, role histories, and mental health. American Sociological Review, 55, 209–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wheaton, B. (1994). Sampling the Stress Universe. In W. R. Avison & I. H. Gotlib (Eds.), Stress and mental health: Contemporary issues and prospects for the future (pp. 77–114). New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wilkinson, R. G., & Marmot, M. (2003) Social determinants of health: The solid facts. Copenhagen: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  80. Willen, S. S. (2007). Toward a critical phenomenology of “illegality”: State power, criminalization, and abjectivity among undocumented migrant workers in Tel Aviv, Israel. International Migration, 45(3), 8–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Williams, D. R., & Mohammed, S. A. (2009). Discrimination and racial disparities in health: Evidence and needed research. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 32, 20–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Williams, D. R., Neighbors, H. W., & Jackson, J. S. (2003). Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: Findings from community studies. American Journal of Public Health, 93(2), 200–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Williams, D. R., & Sternthal, M. (2010). Understanding racial-ethnic disparities in health: Sociological contributions. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51, S15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Zayas, L. (2015). Forgotten citizens: Deportation, children, and the making of American exiles and orphans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  85. Zivin, K., Paczkowski, M. M., & Galea, S. (2011). Economic downturns and population mental health: Research findings, gaps, challenges and priorities. Psychological Medicine, 41(07), 1343–1348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Zúñiga, V., & Hernández-León, R. (Eds.). (2005). New destinations: Mexican immigration in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of California, RiversideRiversideUSA

Personalised recommendations