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Her most recent publications include the edited volume, Constructing Immigrant Illegality: Critiques, Experiences, and Responses Cambridge, and the book, Immigrant Families Polity She is the recipient of a John S. Guggenheim Fellowship to write a book based on longitudinal fieldwork she undertook on immigration and legality in Arizona. Every domestic policy issue. We recommend that researchers collect self-reported measures of undocumented status whenever possible and limit the use of proxy measures.

Validated and standardized measures are needed for within and across country measurement. Authors should provide methodological information about measurement in publications. Finally, individuals who are undocumented should be included in the development of these methodologies. Undocumented status is rarely measured in health research, yet it influences the lives and well-being of immigrants [ 1 ]. A breach of privacy or confidentiality could result in disclosure of undocumented status and harmful legal repercussions for participants.

Researchers who have examined the health impact of undocumented status in the USA, therefore, have relied on regional population health surveys that include questions about legal status, such as the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey or California Health Interview Survey, or have developed their own community-based surveys, conducted qualitative studies, and analyzed administrative data. This literature on undocumented status and health is growing, with reviews on the topic [ 7 , 8 ] and studies of undocumented status and health care access [ 9 — 11 ], mental health [ 12 , 13 ], and chronic disease [ 14 , 15 ].

Given the increasingly hostile environment towards undocumented immigrants globally, this area of research has the ability to influence health policy and advance health equity for immigrant populations at the same time that thoughtful, ethical, and rigorous approaches are needed [ 16 ]. Yet, the lack of data on undocumented status continues to hinder the advancement of knowledge about the health of the undocumented population and the health impact of legal status. This growing body of literature shows the need to understand and assess the methods for measuring undocumented status.

Currently, recommendations about research with undocumented populations tend to focus on cautions of when to not measure legal status and there is limited methodological guidance of how to measure it in an ethically sound manner [ 4 , 5 ]. Across existing studies and methodologies, no standardized measure exists to identify the undocumented status of participants.

To date, there has been no examination of the approaches used to measure undocumented status in health research, although a recent study examined item response on surveys that ask about legal status [ 1 ]. Improved measurement of undocumented status will not only improve research methodology but will advance the principles of public health and other health research disciplines to address the fundamental causes of disease and respect the experiences of communities [ 17 ].

Given the risks involved in asking research participants about their legal status, an assessment of different approaches is critical to inform researchers in their selection of measures and methods. An assessment of existing measures of undocumented status can also inform the development of rigorous measurement methods.

Associated Data

Therefore, in this paper, we examine the approaches currently used in health research to measure the undocumented status of immigrants in the USA, where a range of methodologies, such as population surveys and ethnographic studies, have been used to study undocumented populations. We discuss the definition of undocumented status, conduct a systematic review of the methodological approaches currently taken to measure undocumented status, and discuss recommendations for advancement of measurement methods.

While the terms undocumented, unauthorized, or illegal are widely used in academic and popular discourse, they refer to a category that is not as clear as generally assumed. The specific legal position of those who are undocumented varies from country to country because of distinct immigration laws.

Similar to citizenship, undocumented status can be defined by identifying its legal and social boundaries and the implications that those boundaries have for the lives of immigrants. To establish a definition of undocumented status in health research, we describe its legal and social elements within the hierarchy of citizenship in the USA, where it was estimated that in that A central legal element of undocumented status is the US federal immigration law that creates the boundaries of each legal status.

The federal government has sole power to determine who can or cannot officially enter the country, determining who will be granted a lawful status. Federal, state, and local policies together form additional legal elements of undocumented status. These levels of government possess varying authority to establish the rights that correspond to each legal status group. Through federal laws and policies, those who are undocumented are excluded from authorized employment, most public benefits, and other social and economic resources [ 23 ].

These individuals do receive some constitutional protections, for example, the US Supreme Court decision Plyer v. Doe , US established that undocumented children have a right to public primary and secondary education. These legal boundaries define the significance of undocumented status in relation to the full rights of citizenship.

While legal elements of undocumented status are central in shaping its position in the citizenship hierarchy, the significance of being undocumented is not inherent to its position of formal legal exclusion. For example, undocumented status may result in stigma for some individuals as a result of social attitudes or practices in their workplace or school [ 31 ].

This can, in turn, shape the circumstances and conditions under which undocumented immigrants are able to socially, economically, and politically integrate into US society [ 32 , 33 ]. In addition, these social elements have shifted over time with changes in attitudes towards immigrants [ 34 ]. Social and legal elements can directly influence or reinforce one another. For example, during periods of greater xenophobia or political polarization, states and localities may pass more restrictive immigration policies [ 35 ].

Legal and social elements work to give significance to undocumented status and, critical for health research, produce the consequences of this status for the lives of immigrants. To understand and assess current approaches to measuring undocumented status in health research, we conducted a systematic review of health literature on immigrant populations in the USA that examined the type and sources of data collected, the type of measurement instruments used to measure undocumented status, and the information used to classify those who are undocumented. PRISMA diagram of literature review: identification, screening, and eligibility of reviewed articles.

Illegality: A Contemporary Portrait of Immigration - Semantic Scholar

We queried articles indexed in PubMed to identify studies that included undocumented populations. This database contains a broad collection of health research articles maintained by the National Library of Medicine, as well as peer-reviewed articles from studies funded by the National Institutes of Health and other major studies that influence research and practice in the field. This produced a final, non-duplicated sample of articles which we each independently reviewed. The inclusion criteria were designed to identify the research articles that included research on undocumented populations and in which we could examine the assumptions and methods guiding measurement of undocumented status.

First, we retained articles that included research studies on immigrant populations of any national or ethnic origin in the USA, for a total of Articles from immigrant populations outside of the USA were excluded, as the legal and social elements of undocumented status vary across countries. We then each independently reviewed the abstracts of the 92 articles and, when necessary, reviewed the full text.

We further excluded those that did not contain individuals who were currently undocumented immigrants e. Included studies by data source, data type, measure type, and information used to measure undocumented status. Because many studies provided incomplete information about their methods, we incorporated non-report into the coding scheme to document the extent to which methodological information is reported and made available to other researchers.

The first domain was the data source used in the study and from which measurement was conducted. This included studies that analyzed secondary data sets that had been originally collected from research participants. The second domain was the type of data that were collected. Studies were coded as using qualitative data if authors collected data through unstructured or semi-structured qualitative methods, survey data if authors collected quantitative data with structured instruments, administrative data if authors collected governmental records e.

The third domain was the type of measure that was applied during data collection or generated from the collected data. Articles were coded as using a self-reported measure if participants provided explicit information related to their legal status. Articles were coded as creating a proxy measure if data on participant characteristics were used to derive an approximation of their undocumented status. We each independently applied the domain categories to the 61 articles. Where there were discrepancies in the two sets of codes, we reviewed the text and discussed the categories to determine which was the most appropriate.

Overall, 48 studies used direct and 13 used indirect data. The measure type was unknown for the 20 studies. The majority of studies with self-reported measures used direct data sources that had survey or qualitative data. Most of those with proxy measures used indirect data containing clinical and administrative data.

Five studies, however, used direct data to generate proxy measures.

Account Options

It also includes the corresponding data source, data type, and measurement type for each, illustrating the process by which information on undocumented status was collected or generated. Thirty-two of the studies did not include sufficient detail in the description of their methods to be able to identify the specific piece of information used to classify undocumented status. Information that is used to classify undocumented status, by total number of studies, and corresponding data source, data type, and measure type. Eleven studies classified undocumented status through survey data that included sequential, deductive questions about legal status—beginning with whether or not a participant was a US citizen followed by various lawful statuses.

In three of these studies, the surveys ended with an explicit question about undocumented status. In the remaining eight, the participants were not explicitly asked if they were undocumented, rather the questions were used to eliminate those respondents who reported possessing a lawful status e. The remaining were then classified as undocumented.

Impossible Subjects Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America Politics and Society in Twentiet

There was variation in the lawful status categories that were included in these survey questions. Other surveys, including one with 14 different legal statuses, included categories of legal status such as asylum or refugee status, Temporary Protected Status, Permanent Residence under Color of Law PRUCOL , parole, or a student or tourist visa [ 10 , 40 ].

The remaining two studies classified undocumented status through unprompted, self-disclosed information in qualitative data. The authors reported that they did not intend to collect information on undocumented status, but that all participants self-disclosed during open-ended interviews [ 9 , 41 ].

Generally, only immigrants who are legally present and authorized to work in the USA can possess a Social Security number, making this a proxy for whether or not a research participant is undocumented [ 42 ]. Studies that classified individuals based on possession of a SSN obtained this proxy measure from clinical data.

For example, one study classified individuals as undocumented if they had no or an invalid SSN. SSNs higher than were also invalid. Therefore, in several studies, researchers used data on possession of these types of resources as a proxy for whether or not a participant was undocumented. We obtained Medicaid records for all EMJ labor and delivery claims. Predicted undocumented status was based on social and economic characteristics reported in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Finally, four articles used information about characteristics—presumed to be common to undocumented individuals—of the study population to estimate legal status.

These were having the occupation of a day laborer, an individual seeking non-authorized admission at a US port of entry, and parents in title I elementary schools. In addition, five of the studies that used proxy measures applied the information criteria above exclusively to specific populations, generally Hispanics or recent immigrants.

For example, in one study that used lacked of a SSN as a proxy for undocumented status, this criterion was applied solely to Hispanic participants [ 46 ]. We conducted a systematic review of the measurement of undocumented status in recent health research in the USA. Despite the importance of each step in the measurement process, the majority of studies reviewed—33 of 61—did not provide complete information about their full process. For example, while 28 studies reported using survey data, only 14 of those studies specified what was asked of or reported by participants to be able to classify them as undocumented.

Of 18 studies that used qualitative methods, only five provided complete information about each step. The studies reviewed here can be broadly described as using either a process to collect a self-reported measure or a process to derive a proxy measure. Direct data collection allowed researchers to collect self-reported measures of undocumented status through surveys and qualitative methods. Among these self-reported measures, each used a different set of questions to collect information to classify individuals as undocumented.

In only a small number of studies where participants asked directly or voluntarily disclosed that they were undocumented. In the remaining studies, questions about legal status categories were used to deductively determine which respondents were undocumented. In contrast, use of indirect data required that researchers analyze available information to create proxy measures.

Proxy measures were generally utilized where no existing self-reported measures of legal status existed in clinical or administrative data sets. However, in some studies, proxies were developed even when collecting direct data from research participants. In these studies, authors reported that they opted to not ask directly about legal status to avoid creating discomfort among participants [ 48 ].

Across all of the studies, we identified six unique pieces of information that served as proxy measures, from possession of a SSN to using statistical modeling to predict undocumented status based on socio-demographic characteristics. While most of the studies did not explicitly ask about whether or not a respondent was undocumented, five studies did obtain explicit information about undocumented status.

All used similar methods as the other studies that asked about other categories of legal status, but that stopped short at explicit inquiry regarding undocumented status. This suggests that it is also feasible to explicitly inquire about undocumented status, a step in the measurement process that would provide more detailed measurement of legal status. The approaches taken across these studies provide examples of strategies that can facilitate the collection of measures of undocumented status by building rapport with study participants.

First, the collection of data can take place in a range of settings that allow participants to feel comfortable, including focus groups, interviews, participant observation, in-person surveys, and phone surveys. Second, in survey research settings, researchers can establish rapport prior to presenting legal status questions. In both of these studies, the surveys included explicit questions about whether or not the respondent was undocumented. Qualitative research settings similarly provide a context for establishing rapport prior to inquiring about legal status.

Indeed, in two of the qualitative studies in our review, the authors were able to obtain measures of undocumented status because participants self-disclosed without prompting. This suggests that given rapport with researchers, some participants are interested in and willing to discuss undocumented status in research.

These approaches correspond with the recommendations made by Massey and Capoferro [ 6 ] to combine survey and ethnographic methods, allowing for quantitative collection of information, but inclusion of legal status questions through less structured processes. Further, the feasibility of collecting and using self-reported legal status is supported by recent studies that have examined response rates to legal status questions in large representative, population surveys. Notably, the authors of these studies did not explicitly report how they weighed the risks and benefits of measuring undocumented status, nor the measures taken to protect participant confidentiality [ 3 ].

While not explicitly mentioned, two approaches to protecting sensitive legal status information are to collect all data anonymously or to obtain a National Institutes of Health NIH Certificate of Confidentiality CoC.


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By collecting data anonymously through one-time interviews or surveys, data on legal status is not linked to participant identifying information. When it is necessary to collect identifying information, such as for follow-up interviews, a CoC provides researchers with some protections against data disclosure [ 50 ].

Prentice et al. These can be obtained for any study, regardless of funding source, and the NIH now provides these automatically to all grant recipients. The studies reviewed here indicate that proxy measures provide an alternative to self-reported measures when the data source does not include direct measures of legal status. In addition, proxy measures can be used when researchers determine that it is not feasible or safe to collect data directly from research participants.

Constructing Immigrant Illegality Critiques Experiences And Responses

However, the information that serves as proxies is based on assumed social elements of undocumented status. Proxy measures, as a result, have significant limitations. First, proxies may inadvertently reinforce stereotypes about the undocumented population and conflate one set of experiences with that of being undocumented. As discussed above, the legal status is made up of both legal and social dimensions.

The use of respondent characteristics as proxies relies on assumed social dimensions among the undocumented population, such as being in the low wage workforce or entering the USA on foot at the border. One limitation is that such characteristics do not apply to all undocumented immigrants. For example, not all day laborers are undocumented and some individuals seeking unauthorized entry are asylum seekers and are granted a lawful status.

Second, the use of such characteristics may be counterproductive to efforts to understand and promote the well-being of the undocumented population by advancing overly narrow representations of the complex legal and social elements of this status. Second, proxies exclude some undocumented individuals and include some documented individuals. They may, however, overlook that undocumented individuals may report having a SSN, either obtained fraudulently or during a period when they were documented or have obtained a license in a different state, and that some US-born individuals do not know or have access to identification or other institutional resources, such as those needed for voting [ 55 ].

Some countries don't even have consular offices nearby, so they have to travel to Washington DC, which is not possible. Because some of their countries, they're going through a lot of political turmoil and civil war. So the state department does not recognize them as countries or does not recognize some of those. Faced with these institutional barriers, many organizations turned to the Mexican consulate due to its expertise in undocumented issues and strong presence across southern California. And so the Mexican consulate has been great supporters of us.

They were actually there for one of our first events. As applicants negotiate the DMV and complete the written and driving tests, they face potential language barriers. The DMV is required by law to provide adequate language access to all immigrants. However, their limited institutional capacity means that they are not able to provide services and materials in all languages.

Instead, their language offerings mirror the most common languages spoken in California: The next largest language groups are Chinese 3 percent , Tagalog 2. All other languages are spoken in 0. Getting information. Even though the DMV has interpretation services available, how are you able to get through [to] that when you can't even understand what you're being told?

This is also true of the DMV's website, which only provides official translations in Spanish for a few pages, including an information page on A. However, these translations are not guaranteed to be accurate. Further, our DMV observations suggest that, regardless of the racial demographics of the area, there was often at least one DMV employee available who spoke Spanish, but there were not necessarily employees who spoke other languages.

Since then, four new languages were added to the list: Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, and Thai. So one thing [that] came out of it was the Thai language study materials. It is important to note that all groups share concerns that the translations provided are too formal or lack cultural competency. Many representatives expressed concerns that the DMV was translating materials verbatim and not including any cultural context. They began to ascribe race to the issue and actively sought to reracialize illegality as an issue that affected broader immigrant communities.

For example, when describing the barriers to A. So they got really, really upset at the consulate. They yelled and screamed, and some people protested. It was a big stress for the Korean consulate here in LA especially. That was the key that I think actually turned things on that side. It is not a simple matter to know whether undocumented immigrant communities in California have equal access to driver's licenses.

As a result, not all undocumented immigrants have been able to equally avail themselves of this integrative subfederal immigration policy. Previous work has highlighted the racialized production of undocumented migration De Genova ; Ngai ; Molina and the racially diverging experiences of undocumented immigrants Cho ; Enriquez, forthcoming. We contend that racialized illegality also sets the stage for subfederal policy implementation and uptake.

The institutional capacities of these various types of organizations reflect the racialized migration histories of the places in which they operate. As a result, policy implementation is shaped by racialized histories of illegality and also simultaneously produces divergently racialized experiences of illegality. It may be that other aspects of policy implementation are also racialized. Organizational representatives reported that some potential A. Given the influx of subfederal immigration policies across the United States, undocumented immigrants face varying legal landscapes and have divergent experiences across local contexts.

As states establish more integrative immigration policies on their own, it is crucial to consider the barriers and challenges to implementing such initiatives. As de Graauw shows, local nonprofit organizations play a significant role in shaping subfederal immigration policy and its implementation.

Our analysis extends this to consider how racialized illegality intervenes in this process by shaping the institutional context and capacity to meet the needs of increasingly diverse undocumented populations. States and localities need to consider these factors when preparing legislation and planning implementation in order to ensure equal access for all eligible immigrants. Our analysis has focused on the implementation of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants in California and the differences in access encountered by members of different racial and ethnic groups and the organizations serving them.

We anticipate that racialized illegality will likely play a greater role in shaping access to benefits for policies that have more onerous documentation requirements for program eligibility than those with less onerous documentation requirements. Given the proliferation and deepening of state policies that aim toward immigrant integration, comparative studies of the racialized implementation of such policies remain more critical than ever. Her research focuses on undocumented young adults and the production of immigrant illegality.

Her research focuses on immigrant representation and integration, with an emphasis on legislative politics and policy. His research focuses on civic engagement and immigration policy. His recent books include Framing Immigrants and The New Immigration Federalism , and he is currently writing a book with Allan Colbern on state citizenship. Volume 41 , Issue 1. The full text of this article hosted at iucr. If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account.

If the address matches an existing account you will receive an email with instructions to retrieve your username. Original Article Free Access. Laura E. Enriquez Corresponding Author E-mail address: laura. Search for more papers by this author. Daisy Vazquez Vera Search for more papers by this author. Karthick Ramakrishnan Search for more papers by this author. Special thanks to all interview participants. Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation.

Share Give access Share full text access. Share full text access. Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Abstract Progressive subfederal immigration policy aims to reduce the consequences of illegality for undocumented immigrants. Conclusion It is not a simple matter to know whether undocumented immigrant communities in California have equal access to driver's licenses. Abrego, Leisy J. Google Scholar. Crossref Google Scholar.

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