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Deportation Threat Predicts Latino U.S. Citizens and Noncitizens’ Psychological Distress, 2011-2018

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The national context of deportation threat, defined as the federal government’s approach to deportation and/or deportation’s salience to the US public, fluctuated between 2011 and 2018. US Latinos across citizenship statuses may have experienced growing psychological distress associated with these changes, given their disproportionate personal or proximal vulnerabilities to deportation. Drawing on 8 y of public- and restricted-access data from the National Health Interview Survey (2011 to 2018), this article examines trends in psychological distress among Latinos who are US-born citizens, naturalized citizens, and noncitizens. It then seeks to explain these trends by considering two theoretical pathways through which the national context of deportation threat could distress Latinos: 1) through discrete dramatic societal events that independently signal a change to the country’s approach to deportation and/or that render deportation temporarily more salient to the public or 2) through more gradual changes to the country’s everyday institutional (i.e., quotidian efforts to detain and deport noncitizens) and social (i.e., deportation’s ongoing salience to a concerned public) environment of deportation threat. We find that, though both pathways matter to some degree, there is more consistent evidence that the gradual changes are associated with Latino US citizens and noncitizens’ overall experiences of psychological distress. The article highlights how, even absent observable spillover effects of dramatic societal events bearing on deportation threat, the institutional and social environment in which they occur implicates Latinos’ well-being.