Becoming Invisible: How Aging Alters the Threat and Fear of Deportation for Mexican Immigrants


Mencoff Hall 205

Isabel Garcia Valdivia, PSTC Postdoctoral Fellow, Brown University

Abstract: Much of the new literature on migrant illegality ignores the fastest growing population of undocumented immigrants, those over the age of 50. We know that immigrants’ visibility to government officials (who might deport them) is a function of temporal or geographic context, ascriptive characteristics such as race and gender, as well as strategic behaviors that allow for “legal passing” from research with children, young adults, and working-age adults. I ask how does aging alter the threat, fear, and consequences of deportation? I argue that visibility and fear of deportation is also a function of the life course. As Mexican migrants age, they become less visible to authorities and less susceptible to and fearful of deportation. At the same time, older migrants nonetheless still fear the deportation regime; and their illegality remains salient, although in new ways. This research is part of a larger binational study that draws on 102 semi-structured interviews with older adult immigrants (50 years and older) in the U.S. (61) and Mexico (41) who held varying immigration statuses. My research thus fills gaps in the literature on migration, which is overwhelmingly focused on children and working-age adults, as well as the literature on life course and aging, which tends to ignore immigrants and the role of immigration status among racial minority groups. It also contributes to our understanding of how stereotypes affect life experiences across the life course.

Bio: Isabel García Valdivia is a Population Studies and Training Center postdoctoral fellow at Brown University. She was recently a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her B.A. in Chicanx/Latinx Studies and Sociology from Pomona College and a Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Berkeley.

Her current research shines a spotlight on Mexican immigrant men and women at the other end of the spectrum – people who have lived in the United States for decades – and their transition into late adulthood. How does immigration status affect older immigrants’ late adulthood experiences? And how does the experience of illegality change across the life course? This work has implications for public policy as well as for academic theories of immigration and integration and aging.

Isabel’s work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the UC Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellowship, and multiple UC Berkeley centers and institutes. Her work has appeared in Social Problems and Educational Researcher.

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