Law enforcement officials are more likely to ask first-generation Mexican immigrants and their children about their citizenship status than those who have been living in the U.S. longer, according to research conducted by two faculty members from The University of Texas at El Paso.
The research paper, “Variations in Citizenship Profiling by Generational Status: Individuals and Neighborhood Characteristics of Latina/os Questioned by Law Enforcement about Their Legal Status,” was published July 17, 2018, in “Race and Social Problems,” a highly respected interdisciplinary academic journal.
Maria Cristina Morales, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, and Ted Curry, Ph.D., associate professor of criminal justice, led the research team made up of approximately 50 UTEP students to include a handful of sociology graduate students.
The student teams spoke to 563 residents in 46 neighborhoods throughout El Paso County in 2014.
Morales, the paper’s lead author, found that officers often base their decision to ask about citizenship on a person’s race or ethnicity as well as their “foreignness” – clothing, accent, English-language fluency, and how they follow social norms.
She called her findings “citizenship profiling,” the perception of who may be a legal resident or undocumented.
“I added the question about the citizenship profiling because I was interested in it,” Morales said. “I thought it was important given the talk about the Black Lives Matter movement and other questions about profiling. I wanted to see what the situation was (in El Paso).”
The results showed that law enforcement officials questioned second-generation Latinos about their citizenship slightly more than they questioned their first-generation parents.
The reason was that the second-generation residents were more likely to venture into parts of the community where they would make contact with law enforcement. The study found that the profiling has little to do with the person’s sex, age or the socio-economic status of their neighborhood.
Most of those who had been asked about their citizenship lived in communities with a medium population density of Latinos.
Morales said the findings are important because of the growing requirements the U.S. government has for local law enforcement officers to make distinctions of citizenship along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The researchers suggested that law enforcement officials should review their procedures because something as simple as a minor traffic stop could lead to someone’s deportation.