Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Trump Administration Immigration Policies Affect Immigrant Lives


Two recent Urban Institute publications suggest that the increasingly aggressive immigration enforcement measures have affected immigrant decisions in everyday life. One offers evidence that immigrant families are avoiding routine activities during which they may be asked or bothered about their citizenship status.  The findings: 

  • About one in six adults in immigrant families reported that they or a family member avoided activities in which they could be asked or bothered about citizenship status during 2018. The activities avoided most were those that risk interaction with police or other public authorities, such as driving a car, renewing or applying for a driver’s license, and talking to the police or reporting crime.
  • About one in three adults in immigrant families with a more vulnerable visa and citizenship status—where one or more foreign-born relatives in the household do not have a green card (i.e., are not permanent residents) or US citizenship—reported that they or a family member avoided at least one routine activity. Meanwhile, over one in nine adults in families where all foreign-born family members have green cards or US citizenship reported this behavior.
  • Among adults in immigrant families, Hispanic adults were nearly three times more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to report avoiding some activities.
  • Controlling for observable characteristics, adults in immigrant families who avoided at least one activity were also more likely to report serious psychological distress.

The other Urban Institute publication concludes that immigrant families are avoiding public benefits in anticipation of the Trump administration's proposed public charge rule.  The proposed rule would consider an immigrant’s use of noncash public benefit programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid, as a negative factor in applications for green cards (i.e., permanent residency) or nonimmigrant visas.

As explored in the new brief, chilling effects are widespread and have spilled over to families not directly affected by the rule, including permanent residents and U.S. citizens (likely including many US citizen children). Here are the findings:

  • About one in seven (13.7 percent) adults in immigrant families reported that they or a family member did not participate in—meaning they did not apply for or dropped out of—a noncash benefit program in 2018 out of fear of risking future green card status. Among adults in low-income families earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, this rate was one in five (20.7 percent).
  • Although the proposed rule does not directly affect permanent residents or US citizens, 14.7 percent of adults in families in which all noncitizens are permanent residents reported chilling effects. And in families in which all foreign-born members are citizens, 1 in 10 adults (9.3 percent) reported these effects.
  • Adults in immigrant families living with children younger than 19 were more likely to report avoiding benefit programs (17.4 percent) than adults without children in the household (8.9 percent).
  • Hispanic adults in immigrant families were more than twice as likely to report chilling effects in their families (20.6 percent) compared with non-Hispanic white (8.5 percent) and non-Hispanic nonwhite (6.0 percent) adults in immigrant families.
  • Among adults reporting chilling effects, 46.0 percent reported that they or someone in their family did not participate in SNAP; 42.0 percent did not participate in Medicaid/CHIP; and 33.4 percent did not participate in housing subsidies. 
  • Most adults in immigrant families reported awareness of the proposed rule (62.9 percent). Among adults who had heard “a lot” about the proposed rule, nearly one-third (31.1 percent) reported chilling effects in their families.


This evidence reveals that although it has not been finalized, the proposed expansion of public charge has already led families to stop participating in programs that help them meet their basic needs. We anticipate chilling effects will be exacerbated once the US Department of Homeland Security finalizes the rule.



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