Discussions around immigration often include elements of law, order, and justice. Immigrants in the US impact society, including the economy, education, and workforce. However, immigration policies have led to enforcement practices that often have harmful and far-reaching impact on immigrants themselves and those in proximity to them.

William Lopez, PhD, sat down with us this month to talk through his work on the effects of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on undocumented immigrants, their families, and their communities, which comprise of people of various immigration statuses.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


Q: What is your research interest?

A: My research interest is largely focused on the impacts of immigration enforcement on what I call mixed-status Latino communities. [A mixed statues community consists of] folks of all immigration statuses: undocumented, [people] with visas, and citizens living and working together. [These are] communities that very much resemble communities in which many of us live and work and move around on a daily basis.

We tend to think of immigration enforcement as something that affects undocumented individuals only. What I hope to show is what many in mixed-status communities have known all their lives: the impact of immigration enforcement casts a much wider net. Many folks get caught in this net, including citizens, including folks with visas.

I also want to consider the way in which this affects Latino communities [in general]. Usually, immigration enforcement is directed toward minority communities, and just given the proximity to Mexico and Central America, much of the undocumented population is Latino. Thus, we see that immigration enforcement affects Latino communities in particular ways. We continue to hear stories from folks who are pulled over because they are Latino, or who believe their license plate was ran because they were Latino, and that officers then pulled them over and asked about the immigration status. My work also investigates to what extent racial profiling is occurring, and what is happening at this intersection of traffic and criminal law and immigration law.


Q: What prompted you to examine this line of research?

A: One thing I've heard said before is, "Sometimes we don't choose our research. Our research chooses us." I've certainly felt that in this position. We think about much of the work that we do in public health and we wish we wake up the next day and it didn't have to be done. We hope in some way that our work contributes to eliminating the need for this work in the future.


Q: What are the key takeaways of your work and what would you like our readers to gain?

A: I think one of the key takeaways from much of the work that we did is that immigration enforcement affects individuals, families, and communities. We often think of those who are the targets as those who are most affected, that is, those who are literally arrested and removed. But often times, it's those left behind who feel the impact of their family member and provider’s absence in their lives most profoundly. 

We're also seeing in these situations that immigration enforcement is largely gendered. It's often men who are targeted and it's often women who are left behind to care for their children in the absence of the father figure. They have to care for these children amid their own trauma of the removal of their loved one, or in the case of a raid, their own trauma of a near-death experience, also while trying to support their children, also while making sure their children are still in school, making sure their children are still eating, and just helping their kids also deal with the absence of a loved one. If there's anything I hope that we can take from this, it's that immigration law can be militarized and violent in these communities and that the impacts are far-reaching.


Are you interested in Dr. Lopez’s work? Visit his profile here.