Immigration Status and Water Insecurity

What causes household water insecurity, or the struggle for affordable, accessible and reliable water for a healthy life?  Poverty and housing influence the capacities of households to secure drinking water.  We have seen in Flint, Detroit, and Washington DC, epic government failures undermine secure drinking water.  But what about immigration status?  What is the relationship between water insecurity and immigration?

My recent paper, written with my former graduate student Emily Vandewalle, argues that among economically distressed populations on the US-Mexico border, family immigration status was the most important predictive factor of drinking water insecurity.  What does that mean?  Well, we wanted to look at a population that was highly vulnerable to water insecurity and identify what demographic or other factors contributed water insecurity within a similar population.  But the most significant predictor of household water insecurity for families living in colonias was mixed-status household, not relative poverty, housing type, or even age profiles.  The analysis indicates that “mixed status” households were 4.2 times more likely to be water insecure than households with members who were all documented (legal residents or U.S. citizens). Although households in which all members are unauthorized residents indicate in increased the likelihood (1.2 times) of water insecurity, the results were not statistically insignificant.

We suggest that everyday behaviors and choices in response to precarious immigration status might “spill over” into other insecurities, including household water insecurity. Negotiating the immigration regime is defined by avoiding exposure to authorities. Connection to public services might also be a perceived vulnerability and exposure point. Another form of “protection,” confirmed anecdotally in field research, is the reliance or dependency on private water delivery—either trucked or vending machines. This allows individuals to manage chronic problems of water access and quality without directly engaging the water supply corporations or municipal services. While more research is needed, it could be that knock-on effects may include increased costs of water, dependency on unregulated water sources, and increased water distress.

Exploring these specific interactions is beyond the scope of this study, but we believe that future research should explore how immigration status might influence interactions with local water governance regimes as a significant factor in water insecurity.

Here is a link to the paper in The Professional Geographer