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CAP: Life as an Undocumented Immigrant

Authors: Angela S. García, and David G. Keyes
March 26, 2012

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Undocumented immigrants react to legal threats and hostile reception by going underground, having negative perceptions of law enforcement, and developing strategies to hide their unauthorized status, write Angela S. García and David G. Keyes in this Center for American Progress report.

What happens to undocumented immigrants after the passage of anti-immigrant state laws such as Arizona's S.B. 1070 and Alabama's H.B. 56 or restrictive local ordinances such as those in Prince William County, Virginia, or Freemont, Nebraska? What is life like for unauthorized immigrants in these areas, and how do they mitigate the harshness of these ordinances? On the flip side, what happens to the larger communities—documented and not, immigrant and not—and how do these laws impact the ability of law enforcement professionals to keep our communities safe?

Many studies have focused on the fiscal and economic ramifications of anti-immigrant legislation, but little work has been done on the harmful effects these laws have on everyday life in our communities. That is the focus of this report.

This report presents one of the first studies of immigrants' responses to local restrictions and enforcement. We demonstrate that exclusionary policies and ramped-up federal enforcement inhibit immigrant incorporation into their communities. Immigrants react to legal threats and hostile reception by going underground: They hold negative perceptions of local law enforcement, associate routine activities such as driving and walking with anxiety and the risk of deportation, and develop strategies of avoidance and fitting in to mitigate the discovery of their unauthorized status.


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