Race and Social Problems

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 174–192 | Cite as

“They Are Clipping Our Wings”: Health Implications of Restrictive Immigrant Policies for Mexican-Origin Women in a Northern Border Community

  • Alana M. W. LeBrónEmail author
  • Amy J. Schulz
  • Cindy Gamboa
  • Angela Reyes
  • Edna A. Viruell-Fuentes
  • Barbara A. Israel


We examine racialization processes experienced by women of Mexican origin in a northern border community during a protracted period of restrictive immigrant policies that have disparately affected Mexican-origin communities, and consider pathways through which these experiences may affect health. This grounded theory analysis draws on interviews conducted in 2013–2014 with 48 first, 1.5, and second generation Mexican-origin women living in Detroit, MI. Racialization processes blurred boundaries between Latinas/os, immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. Racialized policies and interactions required women to negotiate shifting and often precarious social and political terrain. We describe racializing markers used by agents of multiple institutions to assess the legal status of women and members of their social networks, shaping their access to the resources over which institutional agents held power. Specifically, we consider the dynamic mechanisms by which multiple legal, social, and employment institutions exacted immigrant policing and bureaucratic surveillance. These include: (1) interior and border immigration enforcement agents’ active surveillance of residents; (2) local law enforcement officials’ assertion of authority over driver’s licenses and contact with immigration officials, often in traffic-related encounters; (3) Secretary of State clerks’ discretion in assessing legal status and issuing driver’s licenses and state IDs; (4) social welfare agents’ scrutiny of citizenship status in determining access to nutritional, economic, and medical resources; and (5) employers’ exploitation of these structural vulnerabilities to justify unfair treatment of immigrant workers. We theorize several mechanisms, by which these processes affect health, including: stigmatization; hypervigilance; and restricted access to health-promoting resources.


Immigration enforcement Immigrant policies Immigration policies Immigrant policing Mexican Government-issued ID Driver’s license Health inequities Health equity 



We express our gratitude to the courageous women who warmly opened their hearts to share their experiences, steady perseverance, and their hopes. We also thank the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, LA SED, James S. House, the Healthy Environments Partnership, Cristina Bernal, Kirsten Herold, William D. Lopez, Jessica Yen, and members of the Coalition for Interdisciplinary Research on Latina/o Issues (CIRLI) at the University of Michigan for their comments on earlier versions of this work. This research would not have been possible without the generous support of the Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture, and Health; Rackham Graduate School; Transportation Research Institute; Center for the Education of Women; Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan; and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (R-25-058641).


  1. Abrego, L. (2014). Sacrificing families: Navigating laws, labor, and love across borders. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Adler, N. E., & Rehkopf, D. H. (2008). U.S. disparities in health: Descriptions, causes, and mechanisms. Annual Review of Public Health, 29(1), 235–252. Scholar
  3. Almeida, J., Biello, K. B., Pedraza, F., Wintner, S. & Viruell-Fuentes, E. (2016). The association between anti-immigrant policies and perceived discrimination among Latinos in the US: A multilevel analysis. SSM-Population Health, 2, 897–903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. American Civil Liberties Union. (n.d.). The constitution in the 100-mile border zone. Retrieved April, 29, 2017, from
  5. Artiga, S., Damico, A., Young, K., Cornachione, E., & Garfield, R. (2016). Health coverage and care for immigrants. Retrieved from
  6. Artiga, S., & Ubri, P. (2017). Living in an immigrant family in America: How fear and toxic stress are affecting daily life, well-being, & health. Menlo Park: Kaiser Family Foundation.Google Scholar
  7. Ayón, C., Gurrola, M., Salas, L. M., Androff, D., & Krysik, J. (2012). Intended and unintended consequences of the employer sanction law on Latino families. Qualitative Social Work, 11(6), 587–603. Scholar
  8. Bailey, Z. D., Krieger, N., Agénor, M., Graves, J., Linos, N., & Bassett, M. T. (2017). Structural racism and health inequities in the USA: Evidence and interventions. The Lancet. Scholar
  9. Bosma, H., Marmot, M. G., Hemingway, H., Nicholson, A. C., Brunner, E., & Stansfeld, S. A. (1997). Low job control and risk of coronary heart disease in Whitehall II (prospective cohort) study. BMJ. Scholar
  10. Burgard, S. A., Ailshire, J. A., & Kalousova, L. (2013). The great recession and health: People, populations, and disparities. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 650(1), 194–213. Scholar
  11. Castillo, A. (2017). Immigrant arrested by ICE after dropping daughter off at school, sending shockwaves through neighborhood. Los Angeles: LA Times.Google Scholar
  12. Charmaz, K. (2001). Grounded theory. In R. M. Emerson (Ed.), Contemporary field research: Perspectives and formulations (2nd ed., pp. 335–352). Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  13. Charmaz, K. (2012). The power and potential of grounded theory. Medical Sociology Online, 6(3), 2–15. Retrieved from
  14. Chavez, L. (2013). The Latino threat: Constructing immigrants, citizens, and the nation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Coleman, M., & Stuesse, A. (2014). Policing borders, policing bodies: The territorial and biopolitical roots of US immigration control. In R. Jones & C. Johnson (Eds.), Placing the border in everyday life (pp. 33–63). Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  16. Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the policitcs of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  17. Cox, A. B., & Miles, T. J. (2013). Policing immigration. University of Chicago Law Review, 80(1), 87–136. Scholar
  18. Cox, M. (2007). Permanent residency requirement for driver’s licenses, opinion no. 7210. Landsing: State of Michigan Attorney General.Google Scholar
  19. Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist policies. The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), 139–167. Scholar
  20. Cruz, J. (2014). Metro Detroit’s foreign-born populations. Detroit, M. I. Retrieved from
  21. Cruz Nichols, V., LeBrón, A. M. W., & Pedraza, F. I. (2018a). Spillover effects: Immigrant policing and government skepticism in matters of health for Latinos. Public Administration Review. Scholar
  22. Cruz Nichols, V., LeBrón, A. M. W., & Pedraza, F. I. (2018b). Policing us sick: The health of Latinos in an era of heightened deportations and racialized policing. Politics symposium.Google Scholar
  23. Data Driven Detroit. (2012). Southwest Detroit neighborhoods profile. Detroit: Data Driven Detroit.Google Scholar
  24. De Genova, N. (2004). The legal production of Mexican/migrant “illegality.”. Latino Studies, 2(2), 160–185. Scholar
  25. De Genova, N. P. (2002). Migrant “illegality” and deportability in everyday life. Annual Review of Anthropology, 31(1), 419–447. Scholar
  26. Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 120 Stat 4.Google Scholar
  27. Dewey, C. (2017). Immigrants are going hungry so Trump won’t deport them. Washington, DC: Washington Post.Google Scholar
  28. Downing, J. (2016). The health effects of the foreclosure crisis and unaffordable housing: A systematic review and explanation of evidence. Social Science and Medicine. Scholar
  29. Dreby, J. (2015). U.S. immigration policy and family separation: The consequences for children’s well-being. Social Science and Medicine, 132, 245–251. Scholar
  30. Enriquez, L. E. (2015). Multigenerational punishment: Shared experiences of undocumented immigration status within mixed-status families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(4), 939–953. Scholar
  31. Garcia, S. J. (2017). Racializing “illegality”: An intersectional approach to understanding how mexican-origin women navigate an anti-immigrant climate. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 3(4), 474–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gee, G. C., & Ford, C. L. (2011). Structural racism and health inequities. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race. Scholar
  33. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. Golash-Boza, T., & Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (2013). Latino immigrant men and the deportation crisis: A gendered racial removal program. Latino Studies, 11(3), 271–292. Scholar
  35. Hacker, K., Chu, J., Leung, C., Marra, R., Pirie, A., Brahimi, M., … Marlin, R. P. (2011). The impact of immigration and customs enforcement on immigrant health: Perceptions of immigrants in Everett, Massachusetts, USA. Social Science and Medicine, 73(4), 586–594. Scholar
  36. Hagan, J., Rodriguez, N., Capps, R., & Kabiri, N. (2003). The effects of recent welfare and immigration reforms on immigrants’ access to health care. International Migration Review, 37(2), 444–463. 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. Scholar
  38. Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Prins, S. J., Flake, M., Philbin, M., Frazer, M. S., Hagen, D., & Hirsch, J. (2017). Immigration policies and mental health morbidity among Latinos: A state-level analysis. Social Science and Medicine, 174, 169–178. Scholar
  39. Hicken, M. T., Lee, H., Ailshire, J., Burgard, S. A., & Williams, D. R. (2013). “Every shut eye, ain’t sleep”: The role of racism-related vigilance in racial/ethnic disparities in sleep difficulty. Race and Social Problems, 5(2), 100–112. Scholar
  40. Hicken, M. T., Lee, H., Morenoff, J., House, J. S., & Williams, D. R. (2014). Racial/ethnic disparities in hypertension prevalence: Reconsidering the role of chronic stress. American Journal of Public Health, 104(1), 117–123. Scholar
  41. Hoffman, J. (2017). Sick and afraid, some immigrants forgo medical care. Durham, NC: New York Times. Retrieved from
  42. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (2013). Secure communities activated jurisdictions.Google Scholar
  43. Joseph, T. D. (2017). Still left out: Healthcare stratification under the Affordable Care Act. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43(12), 2089–2107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kolken, M. (2017). ICE Allegedly Instituting Deportations at Hospitals in Texas. Latino Rebels.Google Scholar
  45. Latino Decisions. (2015). Topline results: Latino National Health Survey. Albuquerque: Latino Decisions. Retrieved from
  46. LeBrón, A. M. W., Lopez, W. D., Cowan, K., Novak, N. L., Temrowski, O., Ibarra-Frayre, M., & Delva, J. (2018a). Restrictive ID policies: Implications for health equity. Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health, 20, 255–260. Scholar
  47. LeBrón, A. M. W., Schulz, A. J., Mentz, G. B., Gamboa, C., & Reyes, A. (2018c). Antihypertensive medication use: Implications for inequities in cardiovascular risk and opportunities for intervention. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 29(1), 192–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. LeBrón, A. M. W., Schulz, A. J., Mentz, G. B., Reyes, A., Gamboa, C., Israel, B. A., … House, J. S. (2018b). Impact of change over time in self-reported discrimination on blood pressure: Implications for inequities in cardiovascular risk for a multi-racial urban community. Ethnicity and Health. Scholar
  49. LeBrón, A. M. W., Spencer, M., Kieffer, E., Sinco, B., & Palmisano, G. (2018d). Racial/ethnic discrimination and diabetes-related outcomes among Latinos with type 2 diabetes. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. Scholar
  50. LeBrón, A. M. W., Valerio, M. A., Kieffer, E., Sinco, B., Rosland, A.-M., Hawkins, J., … Spencer, M. (2014). Everyday discrimination, diabetes-related distress, and depressive symptoms among African Americans and Latinos with diabetes. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. Scholar
  51. Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (2001). Conceptualizing stigma. Annual Review of Sociology, 27(1), 363–385. Scholar
  52. Lopez, W. D., Kruger, D. J., Delva, J., Llanes, M., Ledon, C., Waller, A. … Israel, B. (2016). Health implications of an immigration raid: Findings from a Latino community in the Midwestern United States. Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health.Google Scholar
  53. Marrow, H. B. (2012). Deserving to a point: Unauthorized immigrants in San Francisco’s universal access healthcare model. Social Science and Medicine, 74(6), 846–854. Scholar
  54. Martin, M. A., & Lippert, A. M. (2012). Feeding her children, but risking her health: The intersection of gender, household food insecurity and obesity. Social Science and Medicine, 74(11), 1754–1764. Scholar
  55. McEwen, B. S., & Wingfield, J. C. (2010). What is in a name? Integrating homeostasis, allostasis and stress. Hormones and Behavior, 57(2), 105–111. Scholar
  56. McGahan, J. (2017). Why is border patrol arresting people in Boyle Heights. Los Angeles: LA Weekly.Google Scholar
  57. Miller, T. (2014). Border patrol nation: Dispatches from the front lines of homeland security. San Francisco: City Lights Books.Google Scholar
  58. Ngai, M. M. (2004). Impossible subjects: Illegal aliens and the making of modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Novak, N. L., Geronimus, A. T., & Martinez-Cardoso, A. M. (2017). Change in birth outcomes among infants born to Latina mothers after a major immigration raid. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(3), 839–849. Scholar
  60. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. No. 124 Stat 119 (2010). United States of America.Google Scholar
  61. Patton, M. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (pp. 169–186).
  62. Pedraza, F., Cruz Nichols, V., & LeBrón, A. M. W. (2017). Cautious citizenship: The deterring effect of immigration issue salience on health care use and bureaucratic interactions among Latino US citizens. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and the Law, 42(5), 925–960.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Phelan, J. C., Link, B. G., & Tehranifar, P. (2010). Social conditions as fundamental causes of health inequalities: Theory, evidence, and policy implications. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(Suppl Spring), S28–S40. Scholar
  64. Potochnick, S., Chen, J. H., & Perreira, K. (2016). Local-level immigration enforcement and food insecurity risk among Hispanic immigrant families with children: National-level evidence. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. Scholar
  65. REAL ID Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 119 Stat. 302.Google Scholar
  66. Rhodes, S. D., Mann, L., Simán, F. M., Song, E., Alonzo, J., Downs, M., … Hall, M. A. (2015). The impact of local immigration enforcement policies on the health of immigrant Hispanics/Latinos in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 105(2), 329–337. Scholar
  67. Rugh, J., & Hall, M. (2016). Deporting the American dream: Immigration enforcement and Latino foreclosures. Sociological Science, 3, 1077–1102. Scholar
  68. Rumbaut, R. G. (1994). The crucible within: Ethnic identity, self-esteem, and segmented assimilation among children of immigrants. International Migration Review, 28(4), 748–794. Scholar
  69. Salas, L. M., Ayón, C., & Gurrola, M. (2013). Estamos traumados: The effect of anti-immigrant sentiment and policies on the mental health of mexican immigrant families. Journal of Community Psychology, 41(8), 1005–1020. Scholar
  70. Schulz, A. J., Kannan, S., Dvonch, J. T., Israel, B. A., Allen, A., James, S. A., … Lepkowski, J. (2005). Social and physical environments and disparities in risk for cardiovascular disease: The healthy environments partnership conceptual model. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(12), 1817–1825. Scholar
  71. Schwalbe, M., Godwin, S., Holdern, D., Schrock, D., Thompson, S., Wolkomir, M., & Holden, D. (2000). Generic processes in the reproduction of inequality: An interactionist analysis. Social Forces, 72(2), 419–452. Scholar
  72. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedure and techniques. Qualitative Sociology, 13(1), 3–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Taylor, P., Lopez, M. H., Passel, J. S., & Motel, S. (2011). Unauthorized immigrants: Length of residency, patterns of parenthood. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from
  74. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 110 Stat 2105.Google Scholar
  75. 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. Scholar
  76. TRAC. (2014). ICE deportations: Gender, age, and country of citizenship.Google Scholar
  77. U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). DP-02: Profile of selected social characteristics: 2000 census 2000 summary file 3 (SF-3) - Sample data, Detroit City, MI. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  78. U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). DP-02: Selected social characteristics in the United States: 2010–2014 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, Detroit City, MI. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  79. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (2017). ICE ERO: Immigration arrests climb nearly 40%.Google Scholar
  80. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2003). Endgame: Office of detention and removal strategic plan, 2003–2012, detention and removal strategy for a secure homeland. Retrieved from
  81. Viruell-Fuentes, E. A. (2007). Beyond acculturation: Immigration, discrimination, and health research among Mexicans in the United States. Social Science and Medicine, 65(7), 1524–1535. Scholar
  82. Viruell-Fuentes, E. A., Miranda, P. Y., & Abdulrahim, S. (2012). More than culture: Structural racism, intersectionality theory, and immigrant health. Social Science and Medicine. Scholar
  83. Willen, S. S. (2012). Migration, “illegality,” and health: Mapping embodied vulnerability and debating health-related deservingness. Social Science and Medicine, 74(6), 805–811. Scholar
  84. Williams, D. R., & Mohammed, S. A. (2013). Racism and health: Pathways and scientific evidence. American Behaviour Science, 57(8), 1199–1216. Scholar

Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention, Program in Public HealthUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of Chicano/Latino StudiesUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  3. 3.Department of Health Behavior and Health EducationUniversity of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Detroit Hispanic Development CorporationDetroitUSA
  5. 5.Department of Latina/Latino StudiesUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

Personalised recommendations