The federal crackdown on immigration and the accompanying fear-mongering have driven thousands of immigrants—even those with legal status in the U.S.—to avoid the kinds of activities that might bring them into contact with authorities, according to a new Urban Institute study.
At least one in six adults in immigrant families have stopped at least one “routine” activity, like driving, talking to teachers about their children or even visiting a doctor, the study found, basing its conclusions on a December 2018 survey of 1,950 non-elderly adults who were born outside the U.S. or live with at least one foreign-born family member.
In many cases, the decision to “retreat from public spaces” and become as invisible as possible to authorities has severe psychological effects, the study authors said.
“Federal immigration policies appear to be having widespread ripple effects, with fear and retreat from routine activities occurring in immigrant families, regardless of specific immigration and citizenship status,” the study said.
“Our evidence suggests that many adults in immigrant families may be changing the way they live their daily lives in their communities.”
The most affected individuals are of Hispanic origin, added the study.
The findings confirm anecdotal reports that the intensified campaign against undocumented immigrants, combined with harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Donald Trump, has contributed to a “hide in plain sight” phenomenon.
It also adds context to the recent, successful fight against White House efforts to include a question about citizenship status to the next census questionnaire.
Opponents argued that few immigrants—legal or otherwise—would risk talking to census takers out of fear they or a member of their household would be harassed, arrested or deported.
The ratio of immigrant adults avoiding at least one routine activity increases to one in three when at least one family member does not possess a green card that gives them permanent legal status in the U.S.
“Controlling for observable characteristics, adults in immigrant families who avoided at least one activity were also more likely to report serious psychological distress,” the study said.
Activities avoided by respondents in the study also included renewing or applying for a driver’s license, talking to police or reporting crime, using public transportation, and even “going to public places.”
The study said the “ripple effects” extended even to legal immigrants.
“Even within families where all foreign-born relatives have green cards or are naturalized, more than one in nine adults reported that they or their relatives had avoided specified activities in the previous year,” the researchers wrote.
The study did not provide geographical data for the survey respondents, but it noted that some states and localities had taken “proactive steps” to provide greater security to immigrant communities. Programs included special assistance to schoolchildren in schools, and granting permission to apply for driver’s licenses, regardless of immigration status.
According to the Pew Research Center, about one-third of immigrants living in the U.S.in 2017—roughly 10.5 million people—were unauthorized.
The full study can be read here.