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

Alana M.W. LeBrón, Amy J. Schulz, Cindy Gamboa, Angela Reyes, Edna A. Viruell-Fuentes, Barbara A. Israel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-192
Number of pages19
JournalRace and Social Problems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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