Asad, Asad L. 2023. Engage and Evade: How Latino Immigrant Families Manage Surveillance in Everyday Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
How everyday forms of surveillance threaten undocumented immigrants—but also offer them hope for societal inclusion
Some eleven million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, carving out lives amid a growing web of surveillance that threatens their and their families’ societal presence. Engage and Evade examines how undocumented immigrants navigate complex dynamics of surveillance and punishment, providing an extraordinary portrait of fear and hope on the margins.
Asad L. Asad conducted a wealth of original research—including intimate interviews and detailed survey analyses—with Latino immigrants and their families, as well as up-close observations of immigration officials. He offers rare perspective on the surveillance that undocumented immigrants encounter daily. Asad describes how and why undocumented immigrants engage with various institutions—for example, by registering with the IRS, or enrolling their kids in public health insurance programs—that the government can use to monitor them. This institutional surveillance feels both necessary and coercive, with undocumented immigrants worrying that evasion will give the government cause to deport them. Even so, they hope their record of engagement will one day help them prove to immigration officials that they deserve societal membership. Asad uncovers how these efforts do not always meet immigration officials’ tall expectations, and how surveillance is as much about the threat of exclusion as the promise of inclusion.
Calling attention to the fraught lives of undocumented immigrants and their families, this compassionate and superbly written book proposes wide-ranging, actionable reforms to achieve societal inclusion for all.
Asad, Asad L. 2020. "Latinos' Deportation Fears by Citizenship and Legal Status, 2007 to 2018." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 117(16): 8836-8844. Pre-print.
Deportation has become more commonplace in the United States since the mid-2000s. Latin American noncitizens—encompassing undocumented and documented immigrants—are targeted for deportation. Deportation’s threat also reaches naturalized and US-born citizens of Latino descent who are largely immune to deportation but whose loved ones or communities are deportable. Drawing on 6 y of data from the National Survey of Latinos, this article examines whether and how Latinos’ deportation fears vary by citizenship and legal status and over time. Compared with Latino noncitizens, Latino US citizens report lower average deportation fears. However, a more complex story emerges when examining this divide over time: Deportation fears are high but stable among Latino noncitizens, whereas deportation fears have increased substantially among Latino US citizens. These trends reflect a growing national awareness of—rather than observable changes to—deportation policy and practice since the 2016 US presidential election. The article highlights how deportation or its consequences affects a racial group that the US immigration regime targets disproportionately.
Asad, Asad L. 2020. "On the Radar: System Embeddedness and Latin American Immigrants' Perceived Risk of Deportation." Law & Society Review. 54(1): 133-167. Pre-print.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with 50 Latin American immigrants in Dallas, Texas, this article uncovers systematic distinctions in how immigrants holding a range of legal statuses perceive the threat of deportation. Undocumented immigrants in this study recognize the precarity of their legal status, but they sometimes feel their existence off the radar of the U.S. immigration regime promotes their long-term presence in the country. Meanwhile, documented immigrants in this study describe the relative stability of their legal status, but they sometimes view their existence on the radar of the U.S. immigration regime as disadvantageous to their long-term presence in the country. To explain these perspectives, the article develops the concept of “system embeddedness” to denote individuals’ perceived legibility to institutions that maintain formal records. System embeddedness is one mechanism through which perceived visibility to the U.S. immigration regime entails risk, and perceived invisibility safety, for some immigrants. In this way, the punitive character of the U.S. immigration regime can overwhelm its integrative functions, chilling immigrants out of opportunities for material and social well-being through legalization and legal status in ways that likely have intergenerational consequences. More broadly, system embeddedness illuminates how perceived legibility to a record-keeping body combining punitive and integrative goals—even absent punitive experiences with other systems of social control—represents a mechanism of legal stratification for subordinated populations.
Asad, Asad L., and Jackelyn Hwang. 2019. “Indigenous Places and the Making of Undocumented Status in Mexico-U.S. Migration”. International Migration Review 53(4): 1032-1077. Pre-print.
Winner, Louis Wirth Best Article Award, Section on International Migration, American Sociological Association
The uneven distribution of economic and social resources across communities often falls along ethno-racial dimensions. Few demographers have considered whether such axes of place stratification in a migrant-sending country bear on individuals’ access to economic and social resources in a migrant-receiving country. Taking Mexico-United States migration flows as our focus, we examine if having origins in an indigenous place, a primary axis of stratification in Mexico, conditions migrants’ documentation status when crossing the border, a primary dimension of inequality in the United States. We rely on individual-level data from the Mexican Migration Project merged with municipal-level data from the Mexican Census. Using multilevel models, we find that migrants from communities in indigenous municipalities in Mexico are more likely to migrate undocumented than documented to the United States compared with those from non-indigenous municipalities, net of the economic and social resources identified in prior work as useful for international movement. We discuss why indigenous places—marked by a set of correlated conditions of economic and social disadvantage—channel migrants into an undocumented status. This study contributes to understandings of stratification processes in cross-border contexts and has implications for the production of inequality in the United States.
Asad, Asad L., and Eva Rosen. 2019. “Hiding within Racial Hierarchies: How Undocumented Immigrants Make Residential Decisions in an American City.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 45(11): 1857-1882. Pre-print.
In the United States, the residential segregation of Latinos from whites has persisted but has begun to fall between Latinos and blacks. Demographers offer the size of the Latino population that is undocumented as one potential explanation for these patterns. However, little work has examined undocumented immigrants’ first-hand accounts of their residential decisions. Drawing on 47 interviews with 20 undocumented-headed, Latin American-origin families in Dallas County, Texas, we explore how lacking legal status is related to residential selection processes. We find that some undocumented families perceive certain neighborhoods to be “off-limits,” not only because of financial constraints, explicit legal impediments to their tenure, or individual racial preferences, but also because they perceive them as high-risk: Most households in the study agree that law enforcement patrols areas with white majorities in order to exclude Latinos and, specifically, the undocumented. As a strategy to minimize the perceived risk law enforcement poses to their families’ stability, some undocumented families report opting into neighborhoods with Latino majorities in order to “blend in,” whereas others describe feeling safe in neighborhoods with black majorities where they can “hide in plain sight.” We demonstrate how undocumented families’ perceptions of law enforcement in neighborhoods with differing racial compositions may partly underlie trends in residential selection and stratification.
Asad, Asad L. 2019. “Deportation Decisions: Judicial Decision-Making in an American Immigration Court.” American Behavioral Scientist 63(9): 1221-1249. Preprint.
Drawing on ethnographic observations and informal conversations with judges in Dallas Immigration Court, as well as archival documents, this article describes two approaches through which judges in this setting justify their decisions during removal proceedings. The “scripted approach,” used to effect the routine removal of noncitizens in most of the completed cases observed, entails judges’ recitation of well-rehearsed narratives regarding the limited legal rights and remedies available to noncitizens. The “extemporaneous approach” involves judges moving beyond their scripts and deliberating in greater depth about noncitizens’ cases. In doing so, judges’ personal attitudes, biases, and motivations are often revealed as they articulate their desire to circumvent the removal process for noncitizens they view as “deserving” of relief—but for whom only temporary relief from removal is often available given judges’ interpretations of immigration law. Although judges recognize that this temporary relief may allow some noncitizens to remain in the United States indefinitely, incomplete protection from removal can leave noncitizens in a precarious legal status and jeopardize these individuals' future opportunities for legalization. These findings support a conceptualization of immigration judges as street-level bureaucrats, or frontline workers who interpret the law—sometimes unevenly—in order to enforce government policy while interfacing with the individuals subject to said policy, and amplify the social control capacity of the federal immigration regime.
Asad, Asad L., and Jackelyn Hwang. 2019. “Migration to the United States from Indigenous Communities in Mexico.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 684: 120-145.
Research on Mexican migration to the United States has long noted how the characteristics of sending communities structure individuals’ opportunities for international movement. This literature has seldom considered the concentration of indigenous residents (those with origins in pre-Hispanic populations) in migrant-sending communities. Drawing on data from 143 communities surveyed by the Mexican Migration Project, and supplemented with data from the Mexican Census, this article uses multilevel models to describe how the share of indigenous residents in a migrant-sending community relates to different aspects of the migratory process. We focus on (1) the decision to migrate to the United States, and (2) the documentation used on migrants’ first U.S. trip. We do not find that the concentration of indigenous residents in a sending community is associated with the decision to migrate to the United States. However, we do find that people in communities with relatively high indigenous populations are more likely to migrate as undocumented rather than documented migrants. We conclude that the concentration of indigenous peoples in communities likely indicates economic and social disadvantage, which limits the residents’ possibilities for international movement.
Asad, Asad L., and Filiz Garip. 2019. “Mexico-U.S. Migration in Time: From Economic to Social Mechanisms.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 684: 60-84.
This article adopts a mixed-methods approach to illustrate how economic, political, and social mechanisms work across time to shape individuals’ migration decisions. First, using large-scale survey data from the Mexican Migration Project, we show that economic, political, and social factors all matter for migration decisions but that social factors come to matter most for migration over time. Second, drawing on 120 in-depth interviews with migrants and their family members in four Mexican communities, we find that communities’ migration histories shape how economic, political, and social factors contribute to migration decisions at different points in time. In communities with limited migration histories, individuals migrate to relieve economic pressures on themselves or other household members. In communities with more established migration histories, information and assistance from current or returned migrants help to overcome potential barriers to making the journey. Finally, in communities with a high incidence of migration, social factors act as independent causes of migration—apart from economic needs. These findings provide a deeper understanding of the processes underlying Mexico-U.S. migration, which is crucial for anticipating future flows and crafting policy responses.
Asad, Asad L., and Matthew Clair. 2018. “Racialized Legal Status as a Social Determinant of Health.” Social Science & Medicine 199: 19-28.
This article advances the concept of racialized legal status (RLS) as an overlooked dimension of social stratification with implications for racial/ethnic health disparities. We define RLS as a social position based on an ostensibly race-neutral legal classification that disproportionately impacts racial/ethnic minorities. To illustrate the implications of RLS for health and health disparities in the United States, we spotlight existing research on two cases: criminal status and immigration status. We offer a conceptual framework that outlines how RLS shapes disparities through (1) primary effects on those who hold a legal status and (2) spillover effects on racial/ethnic in-group members, regardless of these individuals' own legal status. Primary effects of RLS operate by marking an individual for material and symbolic exclusion. Spillover effects result from the vicarious experiences of those with social proximity to marked individuals, as well as the discredited meanings that RLS constructs around racial/ethnic group members. We conclude by suggesting multiple avenues for future research that considers RLS as a mechanism of social inequality with fundamental effects on health.
Arcaya, Mariana, Sarah R. Lowe, Asad L. Asad, et al. 2017. “Association of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms with Migraine and Headache after a Natural Disaster.” Health Psychology 36(5): 411-418.
Previous research shows that migraine and general headache symptoms increase after traumatic events. Questions remain about whether posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) produces migraine/headache symptoms, or if individuals afflicted by migraine/headache are especially likely to develop PTSD. We test whether PTSD symptoms following a natural disaster are associated with higher odds of reporting frequent headaches/migraines postdisaster. We decompose PTSD into intrusion, avoidance, and hyperarousal symptom clusters to examine which, if any, are uniquely related to headache/migraine postdisaster.
We use prospectively collected pre- and postdisaster data to explore whether overall PTSD symptoms and symptom clusters are associated with migraine/headache in a sample of Hurricane Katrina survivors. We account for severity of hurricane exposure and control for baseline migraine and headache problems to reduce the probability that heightened PTSD susceptibility among those who already suffered from the conditions could explain observed associations.
PTSD symptoms were associated with higher odds of experiencing frequent headaches or migraines with a standard deviation change in PTSD score corresponding to over twice the odds (95% confidence interval [1.64, 2.68]) of having trouble with frequent headaches or migraines in the post-Katrina period. Each additional point on the intrusion subscale (sample M [SD] = 1.6 [1.1]) was associated with 55% higher odds of reporting frequent headache/migraine (95% confidence interval [1.03, 2.33]), but we found no association with avoidance or hyperarousal symptoms.
Clinicians and disaster planners should be aware that disaster survivors might be at heightened risk of migraine/headache episodes, and those experiencing intrusive reminders may be most affected.
Garip, Filiz, and Asad L. Asad. 2016. “Network Effects in Mexico-U.S. Migration: Disentangling the Underlying Social Mechanisms.” American Behavioral Scientist 60(10): 1168-1193.
Scholars have long noted how migration streams, once initiated, obtain a self-feeding character. Studies have connected this phenomenon, called the cumulative causation of migration, to expanding social networks that link migrants in destination to individuals in origin. While extant research has established a positive association between individuals’ ties to prior migrants and their migration propensities, seldom have researchers interrogated how multiple social mechanisms—as well as exposure to common environmental factors—might account for these interdependencies. This article uses a mixed-methods strategy to identify the social mechanisms underlying the network effects in Mexico–U.S. migration. Three types of social mechanisms are identified, which all lead to network effects: (a) social facilitation, which is at work when network peers such as family or community members provide useful information or help that reduces the costs or increases the benefits of migration; (b) normative influence, which operates when network peers offer social rewards or impose sanctions to encourage or discourage migration; and (c) network externalities, which are at work when prior migrants generate a pool of common resources that increase the value or reduce the costs of migration for potential migrants. The authors first use large-sample survey data from the Mexican Migration Project to establish the presence of network effects and then rely on 138 in-depth interviews with migrants and their family members in Mexico to identify the social mechanisms underlying these network effects. The authors thus provide a deeper understanding of migration as a social process, which they argue is crucial for anticipating and responding to future flows.
Asad, Asad L., and Tamara Kay. 2015. “Toward a Multidimensional Understanding of Culture for Health Interventions.” Social Science & Medicine 144: 79-87.
Although a substantial literature examines the relationship between culture and health in myriad individual contexts, a lack of comparative data across settings has resulted in disparate and imprecise conceptualizations of the concept for scholars and practitioners alike. This article examines scholars and practitioners' understandings of culture in relation to health interventions. Drawing on 169 interviews with officials from three different nongovernmental organizations working on health issues in multiple countries—Partners in Health, Oxfam America, and Sesame Workshop—we examine how these respondents' interpretations of culture converge or diverge with recent developments in the study of the concept, as well as how these understandings influence health interventions at three different stages—design, implementation, and evaluation—of a project. Based on these analyses, a tripartite definition of culture is built—as knowledge, practice, and change—and these distinct conceptualizations are linked to the success or failure of a project at each stage of an intervention. In so doing, the study provides a descriptive and analytical starting point for scholars interested in understanding the theoretical and empirical relevance of culture for health interventions, and sets forth concrete recommendations for practitioners working to achieve robust improvements in health outcomes.
Garip, Filiz, and Asad L. Asad. 2015. “Migrant Networks.” In: Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (eds.) Robert Scott and Stephen Kosslyn. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons. Pp. 1-13.
Migrant networks—webs of social ties between individuals in origin and migrants in destination—are a key determinant of the magnitude and direction of migration flows, as well as migrants’ adaptation outcomes. The increasing emphasis on migrant networks represents a new approach to migration research, which, until the late 1980s, had been dominated by economic or political explanations of migration. This entry summarizes findings on migrant networks from relevant areas of research in anthropology, sociology, demography, and economics; identifies the promising lines of inquiry recently undertaken; and points to key issues for future research, such as understanding how migrant networks impact migration behavior and migrants’ experiences. Such research into the specific mechanisms of social transmission will need to engage with the ongoing discussions on network effects and their identification in the social science literature at large, which will require the interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers.
Asad, Asad L. 2015. “Contexts of Reception, Post-Disaster Migration, and Socioeconomic Mobility.” Population and Environment 36(3): 279-310.
Winner, Marvin E. Olsen Student Paper Award, Section on Environment and Technology, American Sociological Association.
Current theories conceptualize return migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as an individual-level assessment of costs and benefits. Since relocation is cost prohibitive, return migration is thought to be unlikely for vulnerable populations. However, recent analyses of longitudinal survey data suggest that these individuals are likely to return to New Orleans over time despite achieving socioeconomic gains in the post-disaster location. I extend the “context of reception” approach from the sociology of immigration and draw on longitudinal data from the Resilience in the Survivors of Katrina Project to demonstrate how institutional, labor market, and social contexts influence the decision to return. Specifically, I show how subjective comparisons of the three contexts between origin and destination, perceived experiences of discrimination within each context, and changing contexts over time explain my sample’s divergent migration and mobility outcomes. I conclude with implications for future research on, and policy responses to, natural disasters.
Asad, Asad L., and Tamara Kay. 2014. “Theorizing the Relationship between NGOs and the State in Medical Humanitarian Development Projects.” Social Science & Medicine 120: 325-333.
Social scientists have fiercely debated the relationship between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the state in NGO-led development projects. However, this research often carries an implicit, and often explicit, anti-state bias, suggesting that when NGOs collaborate with states, they cease to be a progressive force. This literature thus fails to recognize the state as a complex, heterogeneous, and fragmented entity. In particular, the unique political context within which an NGO operates is likely to influence how it carries out its work. In this article, we ask: how do NGOs work and build relationships with different types of states and – of particular relevance to practitioners – what kinds of relationship building lead to more successful development outcomes on the ground? Drawing on 29 in-depth interviews with members of Partners in Health and Oxfam America conducted between September 2010 and February 2014, we argue that NGOs and their medical humanitarian projects are more likely to succeed when they adjust how they interact with different types of states through processes of interest harmonization and negotiation. We offer a theoretical model for understanding how these processes occur across organizational fields. Specifically, we utilize field overlap theory to illuminate how successful outcomes depend on NGOs' ability to leverage resources – alliances and networks; political, financial, and cultural resources; and frames – across state and non-state fields. By identifying how NGOs can increase the likelihood of project success, our research should be of interest to activists, practitioners, and scholars.
Waters, Mary C., Philip Kasinitz, and Asad L. Asad. 2014. “Immigrants and African Americans.” Annual Review of Sociology 40: 369-390.
We examine how recent immigration to the United States has affected African Americans. We first review the research on the growing diversity within the black population, driven largely by the presence of black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. As their children and grandchildren come of age, relations between immigrants and African Americans are complicated by the fact that a growing portion of the African American community has origins in both groups. We then review literature on both new destinations and established gateway cities to illustrate the patterns of cooperation, competition, and avoidance between immigrants of diverse races and African Americans in neighborhoods, the labor market, and politics. We explore the implications of the population's increasing racial diversity owing to immigration for policies that aim to promote racial equality but that are framed in terms of diversity. We conclude with suggestions for new areas of research.
Asad, Asad L., Michel Anteby, and Filiz Garip. 2014. “Who Donates Their Bodies to Science? The Combined Role of Gender and Migration Status among California Whole-Body Donors." Social Science & Medicine 106: 53-58.
The number of human cadavers available for medical research and training, as well as organ transplantation, is limited. Researchers disagree about how to increase the number of whole-body bequeathals, citing a shortage of donations from the one group perceived as most likely to donate from attitudinal survey data – educated white males over 65. This focus on survey data, however, suffers from two main limitations: First, it reveals little about individuals' actual registration or donation behavior. Second, past studies' reliance on average survey measures may have concealed variation within the donor population. To address these shortcomings, we employ cluster analysis on all whole-body donors' data from the Universities of California at Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Two donor groups emerge from the analyses: One is made of slightly younger, educated, married individuals, an overwhelming portion of whom are U.S.-born and have U.S.-born parents, while the second includes mostly older, separated women with some college education, a relatively higher share of whom are foreign-born and have foreign-born parents. Our results demonstrate the presence of additional donor groups within and beyond the group of educated and elderly white males previously assumed to be most likely to donate. More broadly, our results suggest how the intersectional nature of donors' demographics – in particular, gender and migration status – shapes the configuration of the donor pool, signaling new ways to possibly increase donations.
Asad, Asad L., and Monica C. Bell. 2014. “Winning to Learn, Learning to Win: Evaluative Frames and Practices in Urban Debate.” Qualitative Sociology 37(1): 1-26.
Sociologists of (e)valuation have devoted considerable attention to understanding differences in evaluative practices across a number of fields. Yet, little is understood about how individuals learn about and navigate multivalent valid group styles within a single setting. As a social phenomenon, many accept how central processes of evaluation are to everyday life. Accordingly, scholars have attempted to link research on evaluation to processes of inequality. Nevertheless, the sociology of evaluation only has tenuous, often implicit connections to literature on inequality and disadvantage. This article addresses these two gaps. Drawing on over two-hundred hours of ethnographic fieldwork in an urban high school debate league, twenty-seven semi-structured interviews with league judges, and archival data, we illustrate how high school policy debate judges employ evaluative frames and link them to the implementation of evaluative practices in a disadvantaged setting. We show that the cultural meanings that emerge within the evaluation process—in this case, urban uplift and competition—stem from the conflicted context in which evaluation is occurring. We also make a first step toward applying the conceptual tools within the sociology of evaluation to a disadvantaged setting, and more broadly, suggest that micro-processes of evaluation are important to the study of urban inequality.