Documented and Afraid: System Embeddedness and Immigrants' Perceived Risk of Deportation


Drawing on multi-year interviews with Latin American immigrants in Dallas, Texas, I examine dynamism in how noncitizens holding a range of legal statuses perceive and respond to the risk of deportation. Although many undocumented immigrants understand themselves to be among the most vulnerable to deportation by virtue of their precarious legal status, they do not always. Meanwhile, despite the relative stability their legal status affords them in American society, documented immigrants of various designations sometimes describe paralyzing fears of deportation. I develop the concept of “system embeddedness,” whereby involvement in the punitive and bureaucratic arms of the federal immigration regime represents a source of risk—and noninvolvement a source of safety—to explain these seemingly-idiosyncratic perspectives. The findings suggest that the effects of the contemporary American immigration regime are more pervasive than previously thought, converging to punish both undocumented and documented immigrants, with implications for the reproduction of social inequality.

Last updated on 05/08/2018