Research Article: ‘I’m going to look for you and take your kids’: Reproductive justice in the context of immigration enforcement

Date Published: June 4, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Paul J. Fleming, William D. Lopez, Charo Ledon, Mikel Llanes, Adreanne Waller, Melanie Harner, Ramiro Martinez, Daniel J. Kruger, Virginia Zweigenthal.


Prior research has shown that immigration law enforcement contributes to poor health outcomes—including reproductive health outcomes—among Latinos. Yet no prior research has examined how immigration enforcement might inhibit reproductive justice and limit individual’s reproductive autonomy. We utilized data from an existing study that consisted of a partnership with a Latino community in Michigan in which an immigration raid resulted in multiple arrests and deportations midway through data collection. Using cross-sectional survey data (n = 192) where no one was re-interviewed, we used ordinal logistic regression to compare desired pregnancy timing of individuals surveyed prior to and after the raid to determine the impact of an immigration raid on desired timing of next pregnancy. We then used qualitative data—including 21 in-depth interviews and participant observation—collected in the community after the raid to contextualize our findings. Controlling for socio-demographic characteristics, we found that Latinos surveyed in the aftermath of the raid were more likely to report a greater desire to delay childbearing than Latinos surveyed before the raid occurred. Our qualitative data showed that an immigration raid has financial and psychological effects on immigrant families and that a raid may impact reproductive autonomy because people are fearful of these impacts. These finding suggest that current immigration enforcement efforts may influence reproductive decision-making, impede Latinos reproductive autonomy, and that family-friendly immigration policy reform is needed.

Partial Text

The concept of reproductive autonomy refers to “the power to decide when, if at all, to have children.”[1] Women of color in the United States developed the concept of reproductive justice—closely tied to reproductive autonomy—in the 1990s to extend beyond the individualized framing of autonomy and acknowledge the structural factors that constrain autonomy.[2] Ross and colleagues describe the three primary values of reproductive justice: the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to parent one’s children in safe and healthy environments.[2]

In this study, we consider the effects of a day-long act of immigration law enforcement that culminated in the raid of a auto-repair shop in which multiple individuals were arrested and deported from a mixed-status Latino community in Michigan.[26] Our paper reports on findings from a mixed methods exploratory investigation that occurred in two parts. First, we employ a quasi-experimental design using survey data collected starting three months before and concluding two months after the raid to investigate the influence of an immigration raid on community members’ desired timing of next pregnancy. To contextualize and understand findings from this first phase, we then examined qualitative data collected in the aftermath of the raid and included in-depth interviews and participant observation with the individuals directly impacted by the raid and health/social service members serving Latinos in this setting. The University of Michigan’s Institutional Review Board approved the research.

We found that, among Latinos of childbearing age who wanted to have more children, individuals who had recently been exposed to an immigration home raid in their community wanted to delay their next child longer than individuals who had not been recently exposed to an immigration raid. Further, we find support from our qualitative research that this delay post-raid may be explained by the pervasive anxiety related to having a family member forcibly removed and the likely negative financial and mental health impacts on those left behind. In this section, we connect our findings to previous literature and highlight the importance of these findings for the current immigration enforcement climate.

When the threat of deportation looms over families, their decisions are affected and their autonomy is restricted. Our findings point to the need for family-friendly immigration policies that prioritize keeping families safe and whole.[37] Improving reproductive autonomy and health within mixed-status families may be improved with small local-level interventions but will ultimately require federal immigration reform.