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From undocumented to lawfully present: Do changes to legal status impact psychological wellbeing among latino immigrant young adults?


  • Patler, Caitlin
  • Laster Pirtle, Whitney


Exclusionary immigration policies, as a form of structural racism, have led to a sizeable undocumented population that is largely barred from access to resources in the United States. Existing research suggests that undocumented immigration status detrimentally impacts mobility, yet few studies have tested the impacts of legal status on psychological wellbeing. Most importantly, we know little about how changes to legal status impact wellbeing. Announced in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows eligible undocumented youth to apply for temporary lawful status. Drawing on cross-sectional survey data from 487 Latino immigrant young adults in California collected in 2014 and 2015, we analyze the predictors of three specialized outcomes related to immigrants’ psychological wellbeing—distress, negative emotions, and deportation worry before and after a transition from undocumented to lawfully present status. Results show that retrospective reports of past psychological wellness, when all respondents were undocumented, are predicted primarily by socioeconomic status. However, reports of current psychological wellness are predicted by DACA status. Our results demonstrate, for the first time, the positive emotional consequences of transitioning out of undocumented status for immigrant young adults.

Suggested Citation

  • Patler, Caitlin & Laster Pirtle, Whitney, 2018. "From undocumented to lawfully present: Do changes to legal status impact psychological wellbeing among latino immigrant young adults?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 199(C), pages 39-48.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:199:y:2018:i:c:p:39-48
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.03.009

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Viruell-Fuentes, Edna A. & Miranda, Patricia Y. & Abdulrahim, Sawsan, 2012. "More than culture: Structural racism, intersectionality theory, and immigrant health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(12), pages 2099-2106.
    2. Viruell-Fuentes, Edna A., 2007. "Beyond acculturation: Immigration, discrimination, and health research among Mexicans in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(7), pages 1524-1535, October.
    3. Creighton, Mathew J. & Goldman, Noreen & Pebley, Anne R. & Chung, Chang Y., 2012. "Durational and generational differences in Mexican immigrant obesity: Is acculturation the explanation?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 300-310.
    4. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2005.064980_8 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. McDonough, Peggy & Walters, Vivienne, 2001. "Gender and health: reassessing patterns and explanations," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 52(4), pages 547-559, February.
    6. Hacker, Karen & Chu, Jocelyn & Leung, Carolyn & Marra, Robert & Pirie, Alex & Brahimi, Mohamed & English, Margaret & Beckmann, Joshua & Acevedo-Garcia, Dolores & Marlin, Robert P., 2011. "The impact of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on immigrant health: Perceptions of immigrants in Everett, Massachusetts, USA," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(4), pages 586-594, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ortega, Francesc & Hsin, Amy, 2018. "Occupational Barriers and the Labor Market Penalty from Lack of Legal Status," IZA Discussion Papers 11680, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).


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