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Unintended Consequences

Sometimes we know exactly what the consequences of a policy will be, and sometimes we don’t. In this episode, we’ll explore a surprising consequence related to stepped-up enforcement of immigration policy in one county in North Carolina: Mecklenburg County.

Over the past 20 years, many counties in the US have made an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that gives local police some of the same powers as ICE agents. Mecklenburg County was one of the first to join this program, called 287(g) back in 2006. Under 287(g) programs, which are still in effect, local law officers are deputized to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, with authority to question individuals about immigration status, detain them, and if necessary, begin deportation proceedings.

Mecklenburg County is home to the state’s biggest city, Charlotte. And a good number of the state’s undocumented immigrants live in and around Charlotte.

Researchers have analyzed the effects of the federal 287(g) immigration program. They made a curious discovery: the harsher immigration law enforcement actually leads to decreased use of prenatal care for immigrant mothers and declines in birth weight.

Christina Gibson-Davis is Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke and co-author of the study Heightened Immigration Enforcement has Troubling Impact on Babies.