This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Laws Threatening Immigrants Can Affect Birth Outcomes

My thanks to Professor Rubén Rumbaut for linking me to a paper just accepted for publication (and now available online) in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The paper is titled "Restrictive Immigration Law and Birth Outcomes of Immigrant Women," and its authors--Florencia Torche and Catherine Sirois--are at Stanford University. The paper examines what happened to pregnant women in Arizona when that state passed a very aggressive anti-immigration law (SB 1070) back in 2010. The short answer is that the probability increased that an undocumented woman would give birth to a low-weight baby.
Prenatal exposure to the bill resulted in lower birthweight among Latina immigrant women, but not among US-born white, black, or Latina women. The decline in birthweight resulted from exposure to the bill being signed into law, rather than from its (limited) implementation. The findings indicate that the threat of a punitive law, even in the absence of implementation, can have a harmful effect on the birth outcomes of the next generation.
The low birthweight data are especially noteworthy because many of us have over time demonstrated that Hispanic women in the United States tend to have better outcomes than non-Hispanic Whites. To be sure, Professor Rumbaut and I published research on this more than 20 years ago:Rubén G. Rumbaut and John R. Weeks, "Unraveling a Public Health Enigma: Why do Immigrants Experience Superior Perinatal Health Outcomes?" Research in the Sociology of Health Care, 13(B): 337-391, 1996. So, when the results show that birth outcomes are worse, not better, we know that something is going on. This is a case where correlation is apt to be showing causation.

As the authors point out, these children are now U.S. citizens and will be tomorrow's workers and voters. It was reckless and pointless to have harmed their health during pregnancy. These are among the many, many reasons why Congress needs to get together and craft a genuine immigration reform bill.

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