Immigrants are avoiding everyday activities over deportation concerns

One in six adults avoid activities in which they could be asked about their citizenship.

Immigrants avoid everyday activities over deportation fears and it's causing psychological distress
Immigrants are avoiding everyday activities over deportation fears and it's causing psychological distress, a new study reveals. Pictured: Attendees at an immigration Town Hall In Queens on July 20, 2019 in New York City. (Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s hardline enforcement policies are preventing thousands of undocumented immigrants and green card holders from participating in everyday activities out of fear they’ll be deported.

A recent study by the Urban Institute found that in 2018 roughly 1 in 6 adults in immigrant families reported they or a family member had avoided activities in which they could be asked about citizenship status. These activities included anything that could result in potential 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.

Nearly 1 in 7 adults in immigrant families reported that in 2018, they or a family member did not participate in a non-cash government benefit program for fear of risking future green card status.

The Trump administration announced last year that it would consider reinstating a rule which would deny immigration visas and green cards to immigrants if they participate in certain types of government assistance. As many as 8.3 million kids stand to lose benefits from Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the rule, which was formally forwarded to the Office of Management and Budget for review last week.


Even more concerning than how the administration’s immigration policies are impacting the everyday lives of immigrants who live, work, and pay taxes in the United States is the psychological damage it is causing.

According to the study, adults in immigrant families who avoided at least one activity were also more likely to report serious psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and/or worthlessness.

This added psychological trauma is on top of the average stress that comes with being an immigrant in the United States. A study conducted by Rice University interviewed 248 undocumented immigrants in the San Diego area and found that 23% of adults are at risk for mental health disorders.

Researchers also identified five major themes in behavioral and emotional changes among Latinx children that stemmed from anti-immigrant policies, after interviewing 54 undocumented parents. Those changes included:

  • Concern for their family’s safety and sense of responsibility in “helping change their families’ circumstances.”
  • Fear of the threat of deportation and hypervigilance (e.g., asking parents to not go to work).
  • Sadness and crying.
  • Depression (particularly in children whose parent had been deported).
  • Fear of authority figures, including police and firefighters.

While it was the Trump administration’s goal to arrest thousands of immigrant families with outstanding deportation orders in an attempt to curb migration, recent numbers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demonstrate that the raids were largely unsuccessful.


More than 2,000 immigrants were targeted in the raids, which occurred in mid-July, and just 35 were detained. ICE operations targeting families typically have a success rate of around 10%, but the number of arrests in this publicized sweep was much lower. Officials believe this was due to both the reports surrounding the action and the proliferation of “Know Your Rights” literature that many social justice organizations distributed to immigrant communities ahead of the planned raids.