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  • Juan M. Pedroza

Death & Disabilities in Divergent Deportation Contexts

Updated: Jun 22

Today is the official publication date for an edited book on immigration:


Longazel, Jamie, and Miranda Cady Hallett, eds. Migration and Mortality: Social Death, Dispossession, and Survival in the Americas. Temple University Press, 2021.


In a series of chapters bridging a range of disciplines, the book covers themes of:

  • social death and social autopsies;

  • haunted humanitarianism (i.e., relationships between humanitarian logics and their relationship to lethal violence);

  • death and dispossession behind humanitarian veneers;

  • epidemiologies of living, disabilities, and death;

  • death, injury, and parasitism; and

  • outsourced suffering and survival as a consequence of exclusionary policies.

See the full table of contents and intro to the book here.

In the 3rd part of the volume (“Epidemiologies of Living with Death”), I contribute a chapter, alongside my collaborator Paul Chung, titled "Death & Disabilities in Divergent Deportation Contexts." Email me (j.pedroza@ucsc.edu) for details about our results.

We revisit the so-called "Hispanic epidemiological paradox" (HEP), which happens when immigrants with limited socioeconomic status report better health outcomes than US-born populations (surprisingly and unexpectedly). We join other scholars in examining whether (and where) such immigrant health advantages seem to be eroding; for example, see this recent 2021 paper by Bacong & Menjívar in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health.


What do we find?

  1. Multiple disabilities are more common in metro areas with high deportation rates, but only among a select segment of the Hispanic population: noncitizens who arrived in the US as the era of mass deportations accelerated (after 2006).

  2. Recent arrivals are thus both:

  3. at heightened risk of deportation as they remain a priority for removal and

  4. alone in reporting a higher likelihood of reporting multiple disabilities in metros with the most intense commitment to deportations.

  5. In our analyses, no other Hispanic groups were similarly at risk of heightened disabilities as captured by variation in deportation contexts.

What does this mean?

  1. We find evidence that part of the price of settling in the US is rising.

  2. To be clear, recently arrived Hispanic noncitizens start out with the lowest rates of multiple disabilities, consistent with the idea of an immigrant health advantage. But once we compare their health outcomes across deportation contexts, they alone appear to have shouldered disability-related burdens at a time of mass deportations.

  3. Extending full membership to everyone in our communities has become harder because of the investments we have made (and continue to make) in exclusion.

Some lessons for our future:

  1. In a rapidly polarizing time, commitments to finding and funding equitable health solutions remain limited, uneven, and sometimes unpopular. Harder still, I fear, to think of ways of mitigating the health consequences of exclusionary policies that accrue among "undeserving", maligned, unsympathetic members of our communities; including -- but not limited to -- recently arrived noncitizens.

  2. Our chapter does not set out to provide a definitive account of which members of the Hispanic or immigrant communities are most at risk of paying the price of deportation with worse health outcomes:

  3. Some work has found the effects are generalized (and, in some cases, even beyond minoritized groups to include the broader US population). Others provide evidence of health effects among both the intended targets of exclusion and deportation (e.g., noncitizens and mixed status families) as well as unintended targets (all US-born Hispanics). Still others find specific health outcomes suffer among a select segment of the immigrant population most at risk of detention -- which is what we find in this chapter; possibly because of our focus on an indicator of cumulative, physical difficulties.

  4. As long as our communities, policymakers, and scholars remain committed to identifying the consequences of exclusionary policies (which will be with us into the foreseeable future), I doubt there will be a shortage of future work on health and immigration policies. The challenge for us is to identify which kinds of interventions and organizations can promote health (and mitigate harm). Doing so will remain a daunting challenge on two research-related fronts: identifying solutions means (a) being clear about who we think shoulders the costs of investing in exclusion and (b) testing whether, how, and where we find specific initiatives have had protective effects.

  5. In our chapter, we caution about coming to conclusions from one set of data analyses about how deportations do (or do not) leave imprints in our communities:

  6. In one set of results, we find mortality rates for the general Hispanic population are lower in counties with high deportation rates. (Note: these results are consistent with what we find when using micro-data on disabilities for the general Hispanic population). In those results, we analyze mortality data (at the county level) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) merged with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data.

  7. If we had stopped there (at the county level and with an eye toward mortality trends), we'd only capture part of what is happening across the country -- which comes into view when we analyzed individual-level patterns within different segments of the Hispanic population in disabilities using Census data (American Community Survey via IPUMS) merged with DHS data.




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