The Salience of Anti-Immigrant Policies on Immigrants' Mental Health

Bhavana Penmetsa




Associate Professor of Political Science

Project Summary

This summer, I worked as a research assistant for Dr. Dan Hopkins in Penn’s political science department through Grants for Faculty Mentoring Undergraduate Research. I worked with Dr. Hopkins on a number of his research projects, many of them related to the relationship between race and American politics. One such project on which I worked for the majority of my summer is State Immigration Policy and Immigrant Mental Health. The research question for this study is, “How do anti-immigrant policies affect the mental health and health behavior of immigrants and ethnic minorities?” To investigate this question, data on the salience of immigration issues in each state are combined with National Health Interview Survey data on the mental health of both immigrants and non-immigrants. We hypothesize that introducing and enforcing anti-immigrant policies will adversely affect the mental health of immigrants.

There are two main components to this study: the salience of immigration issues in each state, and individual-level data on the mental health of immigrants and non-immigrants in different states. The goal is to examine the causal relationship between state-level immigration policies and the mental health of immigrants in those states. As a research assistant in this study my focus was on the first component, the salience of immigration issues in various states. I analyzed the degree to which state and local newspapers reported on immigration issues.

To do this, I developed a search string that retrieves articles expressing a hostile immigration environment in any newspaper database. This was done in both English and Spanish language newspapers to measure a broader set of sources that immigrants look to for news and information and I developed the Spanish search string. I used a number of varied approaches to create a thorough and accurate search string. It was essential that the results correlated with time periods that involved intense public debate about state immigration policies, such as the passing of Arizona’s SB 1070 in 2010.

This research experience deepened my understanding of how academic research is carried out and the various moving parts that go into one research project. It was enlightening to work on a number of small tasks and learn about how they tied into the larger studies as a whole. This understanding will prove beneficial in the classroom as I will be able to better appreciate and analyze the rationale underlying research papers and studies. Similarly, I gained many new skills and honed my existing skills that will be useful in both my academic and professional careers, such as managing large Excel spreadsheets and searching for credible information through large volumes of materials.

Participating in this research project also enriched my knowledge of how research functions specifically in the social sciences. As a social sciences student, I was not sure what research in my discipline entailed as my idea of academic research was somewhat limited. After this summer, I am much more cognizant and appreciative of the methodologies and practices employed in my area of study.