More than one in six adults in immigrant families say they or a family member skipped routine activities — such as driving or visiting a doctor — in 2018 because they did not want to be asked or bothered about their citizenship status, according to the nonprofit research organization Urban Institute.
A new report — based on data collected in December as part of the Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey — suggests that unauthorized immigrants, visa holders, legal permanent residents and even naturalized citizens may be changing their behavior in reaction to federal immigration policies.
“I think it just speaks to the widespread sort of climate of fear and insecurity that makes interactions with public authorities or public space challenging,” said Hamutal Bernstein, the report’s lead author.
In families that included at least one member who did not have a green card or citizenship, almost one in three adults reported that someone skipped an activity to avoid questions about their status. But even among families where all foreign-born members in the household were either legal permanent residents or naturalized citizens, 11.7% steered clear of such encounters.
“I think that is a basic reality that helps us understand the broader ripple effects of immigration policy,” Bernstein said.
Nearly one in four adults in Hispanic immigrant families said someone in their family refrained from at least one routine activity, highlighting how the immigration crackdown since 2017 has disproportionately affected Latino communities. Given that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely detains people from Mexico and Central America (in the 2018 fiscal year, ICE removed almost 236,000 immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, or roughly 92% of the agency’s total removals), it stands to reason that Latinos would be particularly fearful, said Randy Capps, the Migration Policy Institute’s director of research for U.S. programs.
Immigrants were especially wary of activities that involved interactions with police or public officials, according to the report. Almost 10% said someone in their family avoided driving a car, while 9% said they or a family member didn’t apply for or renew a driver’s license. Perhaps most significantly, 8.3% said someone in their family did not talk to police or report a crime because they did not want to be asked about citizenship status.
Other activities that adults in immigrant families said they or a family member avoided included going to public places (7.8%), visiting a doctor or clinic (6.3%), using public transportation (5.8%) or talking with teachers or school officials (4.7%). 12.9% reported avoiding multiple activities.
In families where at least one member did not have a green card or citizenship, some of those numbers skyrocketed. Almost 20% reported that someone in their family avoided driving, and 19.2% said they or a family member didn’t interact with police, despite the fact that the United States offers visas to crime victims who cooperate with law enforcement.
Whether immigrants have a reason to fear the police often depends on their zip codes. In the 2018 fiscal year, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations issued more than 177,000 detainers to law enforcement agencies. Many cities and states across the United States — such as New York City, Illinois and California — have ramped up protections for immigrants in their communities and clamped down on police cooperation with ICE; others — such as Texas, Georgia and Arizona — have actively worked with ICE to detain and deport immigrants, Capps said.
In some states, unauthorized immigrants can legally drive; in others, they cannot obtain a driver’s license, which makes driving unlawful.
“In a place like Houston, it can be quite dangerous for an immigrant to drive,” Capps said.
Though where someone lives may affect how likely they are to be turned over to ICE, the federal agency has the capacity to conduct immigration sweeps anywhere. As Capps pointed out, ICE has targeted sanctuary cities — as well as cities with large immigrant populations — in highly publicized enforcement operations over the last few years.
“The whole point of that,” said Capps, “was to make people afraid — prove that they weren’t safe.”