Why Do Immigrants Stay in Communities with Harsh Immigration Laws?

Valdez, C. R, Valentine, J. L., & Padilla, B. (2013). “Why we stay”: Immigrants’ motivations for remaining in communities impacted by anti-immigration policy. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 19(3), 279-287.

Tough immigration laws have been passed in several states in recent years, including Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah. These laws include such provisions as restricting unauthorized immigrants’ access to education and health services and authorizing police to demand papers proving citizenship from individuals they suspect of being in the country unlawfully. According to Valdez and colleagues, these practices instill fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities and may result in avoidance of the social services that sustain children and families. Yet many immigrants remain in the communities that have enacted these policies. Valdez and colleagues sought to understand the motivation of families who remain despite a strong anti-immigration climate. They gathered information through focus groups with Mexican parents of elementary school children in Arizona, the majority of whom disclosed their status as unauthorized immigrants. Despite widespread fear of, and direct or indirect experience with, detention and deportation, these individuals had decided to stay in Arizona following the passage of immigration bill SB1070. A number of sources of motivation for this decision were identified, including: (1) personal motivations (e.g., perseverance, fatalism, and religious faith), (2) family and community motivations (e.g., dreams and hopes for their children, access to community resources, and social ties and a sense of belonging), and (3) socioeconomic and political motivations (e.g., comparatively better economic circumstances in the United States, a desire to protect their children from violence in Mexico, and the expectation that the circumstances for immigrants would be similar in other states). The authors suggested that clinicians working with immigrant populations should be mindful of the various sources of motivation that weigh into the decision to stay in a hostile environment and advocated for the development of resilience-based mental health interventions for immigrant families living in an anti-immigration climate.

Making Connections

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Stress and coping

Media Supplement

Several stories about the consequences of Alabama’s immigration laws are available on this podcast from NPR’s This American Life.