Arizona’s State Immigration Law and the Mental Health of its Hispanic Adolescent Residents


Certain provisions of Arizona’s state immigration law (SB 1070) have caused some unintended “racial profiling” repercussions directed especially towards the state’s Hispanic population. The effects of such hostile social environment on the mental health of the more vulnerable Hispanic adolescents are validated. Among these include increased likelihood of sadness and suicide ideation as well as a general decline in involvement in physical activities.


In Arizona the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) was passed in 2010. The law became one of the country’s toughest immigration bills; it introduced a number of restrictive immigration-control provisions (Archibold 2010). The law empowers law enforcement agencies to detain anyone reasonably suspected of being an illegal immigrant. Anyone apprehended not carrying a legal-residency document is charged with a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, knowingly hiring, harboring, or transporting undocumented residents is a punishable offense. The law’s enforcement has strong effects on the Hispanic population and this claim is corroborated by previous studies that analyzed such effects on immigrants and natives of Hispanic origins. Within the Hispanic community, adolescents may be more vulnerable to SB 1070 in their mental health and health-risk behaviors compared to adults. Thus, against the backdrop of the hostile social environment under SB 1070, Hispanic adolescents in Arizona are particularly vulnerable as the law’s stigmatizing effect on their mental state could stem from the “undocumented immigrant” prototype conditioned by the confluence of labeling, ostracism, discrimination, and stereotyping (Link and Hatzenbuehler 2016). In the ensuing social climate, Hispanic adolescents are highly prone to worrying about their family and their own rights as SB 1070 expands the policing and apprehension authority of enforcement officials. Under this topic, there are further discussions on the law’s effects on several health indicators among Arizona’s Hispanic adolescents. National trends identify Hispanics as leading other ethnic groups in pediatric (2-5 year-olds) and pre-teen (6-11 year-olds) obesity cases (Isasi et al. 2016) attributed to, among others, genetic factors (Fernandez et al. 2012), cultural dietary restrictions, and issues in healthy food access and affordability (Taveras et al. 2010). Such pre-existing health conditions only lead to further adverse mental health and psychosocial functioning effects upon integration into social environments (Gortmaker et al. 1993).


A study conducted by the proponent and his former student (now a Post-Doctoral Associate at the University of Florida) focused on the immigration law’s (SB 1070) effect on the mental health of Arizona’s Hispanic adolescents. Their study was featured by in the working paper series of Utah State University’s Center for Growth and Opportunity (CGO). This initial publication led to some press coverage that feature the authors and their study. One was an op-ed feature at Arizona Daily Star and another article written to commemorate SB 1070’s 10th anniversary discussed this study lengthily. The CGO working paper was developed into a journal article that has been accepted for publication at the highly acclaimed academic journal Health Economics. A second article focusing on SB 1070’s effects on obesity among Hispanic adolescents is now in review at Applied Economics Letters.


The main contention of the study conducted by the project proponents is that in enforcing immigration policies aimed at undocumented immigrants (majority of whom are of Hispanic ethnic descent), a spillover of the enforcement actions even on legal residents could produce unfavorable consequences. In other words, if immigration enforcement authorities are racially profiling legal Hispanic residents or citizens, then attrition through enforcement strategies may also affect legal residents. While the study finds that the more significant repercussions of SB 1070 policy enforcements are the increased probability of sad feelings and decreased amount of reported physical activity among Hispanic adolescents, the suicide ideation effect cannot be completely discounted. Determined immigration efforts result in a restrictive social atmosphere where affected residents of racial profiling could live in persistent paranoia. The struggle among younger people is more difficult – they, who regardless of the nature of their social environment, must deal anyway with social pressures from their peers and adults. Today’s advancements in communication technology only provides a swifter mechanism for breeding paranoia, fear, depression, and ultimately suicide ideation. seems unthinkable to just suddenly shutdown Facebook, Instagram, and other contemporary media outlets – a move that will definitely elicit vehement objections and protests among throngs of captive global users. Solutions, however, can be explored in other areas. Existing policies and regulations can be revisited, reexamined, and reformulated. Cyber security laws should be strengthened and expanded to effectively protect privacy and prosecute violators. In contrast, immigration laws should be tempered so they will be devoid of racial profiling tendencies, and instead foster feelings of security among domestic residents, regardless of ethnic affiliation. When the law and its attendant policies are aligned with the general sentiment of fostering greater mental health awareness, a healthier happy nation resides.

State Issue

Youth & Family Development


  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: State
  • County: Clarke
  • Location: College Station, Athens
  • Program Areas:
    • Agriculture & Natural Resources


    Escalante, Cesar L.


Non-CAES Collaborator(s)

  • Tianyuan Luo
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