Growing numbers of Hispanics are reluctant to apply for federal food aid or to participate in the Affordable Care Act, out of fear that they or family members might be deported under Washington’s immigration crackdown, according to a study prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study, entitled Fear and the Safety Net: Evidence From Secure Communities, examined the impact of the Secure Communities(SC), immigration enforcement program administered by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), on safety-net participation among Hispanic Americans in 2017.
Data on take-ups of public assistance programs came from Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), public-use administrative data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the American Community Survey (ACS).
Results from the ACS found a 10 percent decrease in the take-up rate of food stamps by Hispanic-headed households after SC activation.
In terms of health insurance, the authors estimate sign-up rates for the Affordable Care Act among eligible Hispanics would have been 22 percent higher in areas without SC, and estimated a two percent reduction in sign-ups for every 10 percent increase in the number of detaineees.
The study quotes an interview with one Hispanic resident, reported by PBS News Hour, that it said reflected a common sentiment: “You don’t want to be the family member that, because you signed up for coverage, you’re getting your grandmother, your uncle or your parent deported,”
The study describes SC as a program that “empowers ICE to check the immigration status of anyone arrested by local law enforcement agencies through fingerprint analysis and substantially increases the likelihood that a non-citizen immigrant will be deported, conditional on being arrested…
“SC has led to over 43 million fingerprint submissions, 2.2 million fingerprint matches, and over 380,000 individuals,” during its initial period of implementation ending in 2014, the study said.
The study was written by Crystal Yang, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Law School, and Marcella Alsan, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Stanford.
The authors observe that other factors, such as a lack of information about the programs, do not explain the slowdown in safety-net enrollment.
“Hispanic individuals in households who previously used food stamps also substantially reduced their use following SC activation,” they wrote.
Another factor the researchers looked at was the effect of so-called “sanctuary cities” on Hispanic households and individuals. They found that SC had no detectable effects in cities where immigration detainers are not as strictly enforced, and even found a positive effect on Hispanics residing in sanctuary cities.
The authors also analyzed Google trends for indications of deportation fears among Hispanics living in SC areas. They found that, following SC activation, “Google searches for deportation-related terms across media markets increased sharply, consistent with at least an awareness of the program, if not fear of its potential consequences.”
The study also notes that the effects of deportation fears may not be limited to Hispanic households and communities, with programs like the ACA.
Citing a previous study that shows Hispanics have been shown to have better health outcomes than similarly situated low-income blacks or whites, a decrease in enrollment in the ACA among Hispanics could raise premiums for other demographics.
The authors conclude by positing the potential harm that could come to low-income Hispanics in the US from decreased public assistance program usage due to fear of deportation.
“Reductions in food stamp usage among Hispanics in response to immigration enforcement could have long-run consequences for health and economic security.”
The study ends by noting that while the health effects of insurance are debated, evidence shows that “there is evidence that it provides protection from medical debt and related financial crises.”
This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Dane Stallone. Readers’ comments are welcome.