Events / Neil A. Weiner Research Speaker Series

Reconsidering Immigrant Illegality

How Immigrants Perceive the Risk of Immigration Law and Enforcement

Past Event
Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
12:30 PM — 1:30 PM
Vera Institute of Justice

Over the past two decades, researchers have developed a shared understanding of how to study immigrants’ everyday lives in an era of restrictive American immigration law and enforcement. The literature on immigrant “illegality” emphasizes the stories of immigrants punished for violating sometimes-arcane immigration laws. These stories further highlight the vulnerability of all noncitizens to the immigration enforcement system. Yet, research seldom considers how the majority of immigrants who lack punitive contact with the system perceive its risk to their lives.

In this talk, Asad L. Asad explores the various ways that immigrants perceive and interact with U.S. immigration law and enforcement. Drawing on ethnographic and interview data collected over three years with Latin American households in Dallas County, Texas, Asad underscores how prior contact with immigration law and enforcement can change immigrants’ attitudes towards this system. In particular, Asad’s research showed that undocumented immigrants—who have never had punitive contact with immigration law and enforcement—tend to underestimate the risk the system poses to their lives. In contrast, legal immigrants—who have had contact with immigration law and enforcement—had higher fears of being caught in the system.

Asad L. Asad earned his PhD in sociology from Harvard University. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell University. In Fall 2019, he will begin as Assistant Professor of Sociology and (by courtesy) Public Policy at the University of Michigan. His research considers how institutions mediate various facets of inequality, with applications to the fields of immigration; race and ethnicity; and health. His research has appeared in journals such as American Behavioral Scientist, Annual Review of Sociology, Population and Environment, Qualitative Sociology, and Social Science & Medicine, among other outlets.