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


Drawing on in-depth interviews with Latin American immigrants in Dallas, Texas, I examine heterogeneity in how noncitizens holding a range of legal statuses perceive and respond to the risk of deportation. Despite the precariousness of their status, undocumented immigrants in this study do not always report fearing deportation. Meanwhile, despite the relative stability their status confers, documented immigrants of various designations in this study sometimes report fearing deportation. To explain these seemingly-idiosyncratic perspectives, I develop the concept of “system embeddedness” to denote individuals’ perceived legibility to institutions that maintain formal records. System embeddedness is one mechanism through which involvement in the federal immigration regime entails risk, and noninvolvement safety, for some noncitizens. The findings suggest that even ostensibly “good” types of involvement in the U.S. immigration regime—such as holding a legal status—can represent a source of risk and uncertainty for “legal” and “illegal” noncitizens alike, with implications for social inequality.

Last updated on 06/01/2018