Adults in immigrant families — undocumented people, legal residents and even naturalized U.S. citizens — are changing their daily routines to avoid being asked about their citizenship status, according to an Urban Institute study released Wednesday.
The study analyzed data on the lives of immigrants under President Donald Trump, who has threatened and implemented severe immigration policies. Experts at the nonpartisan nonprofit say these measures have a “chilling effect” among many immigrants who now fear accessing benefits and services they or their family members are entitled to.
The December 2018 Urban Institute survey, which interviewed nearly 2,000 nonelderly adults in immigrant families or with an immigrant family member, found that around one in six of them avoided activities that could result in them being asked about citizenship status. The activities immigrants were most likely to avoid were those that could lead to an interaction with a public authority, particularly the police. Nearly 10% said they avoided driving a car, while 9% said they were likely to refrain from talking to police or reporting a crime.
Some immigrants also said they avoided visiting a doctor or health clinic, speaking with the police, driving a car or using public transportation, or going to public places like stores. A third of adults in immigrant families that include at least one person who is not a U.S. citizen or who doesn’t hold a green card said they or a family member avoided one or more of those routine activities.
But families with all members with “relatively ‘safe’ immigration” statuses also reported similar behaviors, though at a lower rate. Over one in nine adults in households that had only U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents said they or another member of their family avoided at least one of the routine activities in the survey.
“It really suggests the ripple effect of immigration policy and the generalized fear in immigrant communities when you have green card holders and naturalized citizens experiencing this kind of insecurity,” said Hamutal Bernstein, a researcher on the study and a senior research associate at the Urban Institute.
The report joins a larger national conversation and about the fear instilled in immigrant communities across the United States due to the current political climate. Many believe this atmosphere encourages immigrants to avoid interacting with public authorities or receiving medical care.
The study didn’t show a causal link in the data — the data, drawn from a survey conducted in December 2018, does not have previous results to compare to. Bernstein said that with this data alone, “we can’t conclude that things have changed.”
Researchers also found that, even with controlling for characteristics like age, gender and race and ethnicity, adults in immigrant families who avoided one or more of the activities were three times more likely than respondents who didn’t avoid activities to report serious psychological distress.
“If people are afraid to leave their house or drive their cars, they won’t be able to get to work; they can’t get their kids to schools; they can’t access medical services they need,” Bernstein said. This impacts not only members of immigrant families, she added, but also other members of the community who would benefit from all residents “having their basic needs met”—including being able to get to work or report a crime.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said the data came from a year’s worth of interviews. The data came from a December 2018 survey.