The Gendered Effects of Local Immigration Enforcement: Latinas’ Social Isolation in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix

William Paul Simmons, Cecilia Menjívar, Elizabeth Salerno Valdez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The 2017 revitalization of the controversial Security Communities program, which requires local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration officials in the United States, has made it urgent to better understand such enforcement programs’ effects on the well-being of Latinas/os, especially the foreign-born. Social isolation from increased immigration enforcement can have significant impacts on economic, social, and health outcomes among Latina/o immigrants and non-immigrants. This article analyzes the gendered impacts of different levels of increased local involvement in immigration enforcement on social isolation, using a survey of over 2000 Latinas/os in four large US cities, all considered to be traditional destinations. Unsurprisingly, respondents reported increased social isolation resulting from local law enforcement’s involvement in immigration enforcement. In contrast to results from previous research, our analysis found that women and men were equally likely to feel socially isolated and that having children led to more social isolation for both women and men. Personal and vicarious experiences with immigration enforcement, as well as living in Phoenix and Houston — two urban areas with the strictest enforcement regimes — were strongly related to social isolation. Our results indicate that local authorities’ increased involvement in immigration enforcement can lead to more social isolation for Latina immigrants, particularly those who have children, aligning their experiences with men’s and, thus, undermining Latinas’ previously recognized role as bridges between their families and social institutions and as community builders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-134
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Migration Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Latina immigrants
  • immigration enforcement
  • social isolation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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