Changes in federal immigration policies and heightened immigration enforcement over the last several years have caused fear and insecurity for many immigrant families across the country. In addition to stories of rising fear among families reported in the press, several studies have documented evidence of widespread anxiety and instability among immigrant families and children. A recent Urban Institute study shows that nearly one in seven adults in immigrant families report that they or a family member did not participate in a noncash government benefit program in 2018 for fear of risking future green card status as the administration considered changing rules for “public charge” determinations. Beyond avoiding participation in public programs, many immigrant families may be changing how they go about their daily lives. Reports show immigrant families increasingly avoiding routine activities, such as interacting with teachers or school officials, health care providers, and the police, which poses risks for their well-being and the communities in which they live.
In this brief, we use the Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey (WBNS), a nationally representative, internet-based survey conducted in December 2018, to examine immigrant families’ reported avoidance of activities in various public settings.
We find the following:
- 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.
This information allows us to document how adults in immigrant families are changing their daily lives within the current immigration policy context. Our evidence suggests that many adults in immigrant families may be changing the way they live their daily lives in their communities. Potential consequences and impacts for health and well-being, for immigrant families and the broader communities where they reside, will be important to monitor.