Become a Patreon!


Excerpted From: Caitlin Cavanagh, Erica Dalzell and Elizabeth Cauffman, Documentation Status, Neighborhood Disorder, and Attitudes Toward Police and Courts among Latina Immigrants, 26 Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 121 (February 2020) (References) (Full Document)


CavanaghDalzellCauffmanOne's social and physical context affects one's attitudes, including attitudes toward the justice system. For example, individuals who live in disordered neighborhoods tend to view the justice system as less legitimate. Perceptions of the justice system, in turn, have direct consequences for public safety, as these perceptions are associated with both crime reporting and crime commission. However, not all people are able to choose where they live, and those with undocumented family members maybe even more curtailed in their options. Indeed, some families with an undocumented member may lack the means for suitable housing and thus may have little choice but to live in disordered neighborhoods. For example, Hall and Greenman found that undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants were more likely to report concern about the public services and environmental conditions in their neighborhoods relative to documented immigrants. Thus, it is important to understand how neighborhood characteristics and documentation status duly inform individuals' perceptions of the justice system. This may be particularly true among female Latinx immigrants, who rate their neighborhoods as more dangerous relative to U.S.-born Latinas and men. Among a sample of Latina immigrant women whose sons were arrested and processed in the juvenile justice system, the present study investigates the degree to which documentation status moderates the association between neighborhood disorder and trust in the police and courts.

[. . .]

The rise in the rate of deportations in the United States over the last several years, particularly among Latinx immigrant communities, underscores the importance of understanding how documented and undocumented Latinx immigrants perceive the justice system. The national debate about immigration reform is highly polarized, even as changes to immigration enforcement are enacted. In 2017, Executive Order 13,768, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, articulated immigration enforcement and removal priorities. The order widened the net of "removable aliens" and removed protections afforded to classes of immigrants. In practice, this translated to the largest number of administrative arrests over the preceding 3 years, of which 36% resulted in deportation. At the end of 2017, ICE had deported 226,119 individuals in that year, the vast majority of whom were Latinx.

A functioning justice system relies on individuals to participate in reporting crime and cooperating with legal actors, but those who perceive the justice system to be untrustworthy, unlawful, and unfair are less likely to do so. Extant evidence suggests that people living in disordered neighborhoods are more likely to report lower generalized trust. Yet the results of the present study suggest that documentation status is an important component of this argument, such that undocumented Latinx immigrants who live in high-disordered neighborhoods perceive the police and courts as less lawful, fair, and effective than both documented and undocumented Latinx immigrants living in low-disordered neighborhoods.

Overall, this study adds an important immigration policy component to recent research that suggests that the mechanisms driving justice system perceptions vary across neighborhood quality. Policies that further alienate undocumented immigrants living in the United States may only serve to isolate both the individuals and their family members from trusting the rule of law. Overall, the results suggest that policy related to immigration should consider the unintended effects of such laws on perceptions of the police and courts, attitudes with empirically demonstrated repercussions for public safety.

Caitlin Cavanagh, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University
Erica Dalzell, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University
Elizabeth Cauffman, Department of Psychological Science, University of California.

Become a Patreon!