Since President Donald Trump took office, undocumented immigrants across the country have been on edge, worried that anything they do could land them in deportation proceedings under this new administration.
Trump’s executive order expanding the types of crimes that can be punishable by deportation has made people wary of leaving their homes. And the administration is also going after immigrants who haven’t committed crimes. According to the Washington Post, the number of arrests of immigrants with no criminal record has doubled under President Trump.
A routine trip to drop off your kids at school could get you pulled over as your kid films your arrest from the backseat. A trip to a federal courthouse to obtain a protective order against your allegedly abusive ex could lead to your arrest by immigration agents. Even a trip from a hypothermia shelter to a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store in the dead of winter could lead to a roundup by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Immigrants understand that they, too, could be next. Now, social service providers and law enforcement officials are seeing a startling trend: immigrants who are entitled to services to keep them safe and protected are no longer seeking out these programs because they’re too afraid.
Fewer people are reporting domestic violence and rape
After a woman in El Paso, Texas was detained by ICE agents immediately after filing a restraining order against her allegedly abusive partner, domestic violence victim advocates have been concerned that other immigrants will be too scared to come forward to seek help.
During a press conference in early April, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced a 42.8 percent drop in the number of Latinos reporting rape to his department compared to the same period last year.
“When you see this type of data, and what looks like the beginnings of people not reporting crime, we should all be concerned,” Acevedo said at a news conference, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. “A person that rapes or violently attacks or robs an undocumented immigrant is somebody that is going to harm a natural born citizen or lawful resident.”
In March, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Berk said that his department experienced a 25 percent drop in reports of sexual assault among the Latino population, with reports of domestic violence falling 10 percent.
Those statistics follow reports of crime victims who have withdrawn requests to seek restraining orders against alleged abusers out of fear that they could be arrested by ICE agents at the courthouse.
In Anchorage, Alaska — a place that’s seemingly as far removed from Washington, D.C. than anywhere else — immigrants are similarly afraid of going to immigration court and getting detained.
“People are afraid that if they go to court they will be apprehended,” Nelson Jesus Godoy who runs the advocacy group Faces of Hope Community Services based in Anchorage, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. “They believe that there will be consequences if they report problems.”
Godoy said he has been trying to build a community relations services with the local police department to help immigrants with “know your rights” workshops so that they would be prepared for confrontations with ICE agents.
Monica Black, the communication and development associate at the advocacy group Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), echoed a similar experience with immigrants over the past several months.
“We have noticed that the numbers have dropped, but we have not analyzed the numbers,” Black told ThinkProgress in reference to the number of people calling her organization’s intake line. But while she noticed a drop in the number of people who call to report domestic abuse or other forms of harm, she has also noticed an “increase in services for people wanting power of attorney for when people would tell us that they want to prepare to be ready if something happens.”
Fewer workers are reporting injuries on the job
Carlos, a 56-year-old undocumented worker from Mexico who works as a dishwasher in California, was fired for attending a workers’ compensation hearing, which is a violation of California law, as Bloomberg News reported. Although he could have contested his dismissal, he chose not to out of fear of deportation.
“I understand that this is unlawful, but I’m afraid of reporting this kind of situation, because I’m afraid of deportation,” Carlos told the publication. “I am worried that, at any time, they’re going to come arrest me at work.”
Bloomberg spoke with other immigrants in the same situation. Sofia, a Mexican fieldworker in California, has a workers’ compensation case after she hurt her arm and shoulder doing fieldwork. But she told the publication that she has been “reluctant to show up” to the workers’ compensation administrative court because she’s afraid that “immigration agents will be there to grab you.” Another woman Rosita, is also in the workers’ compensation system, but she has been “afraid of returning to work.”
Workers’ compensation lawyers have also seen a decline in the number of people who have come for their services. One lawyer saw a 20 percent drop in the number of intakes since Trump took office.
Fewer immigrants are enrolling in safety net programs
A leaked copy of a draft executive order released in February would limit undocumented immigrants’ use of cash, nutrition, and health benefits and force their sponsors to repay any benefits received. The executive order didn’t go into effect — and it’s unclear whether it ever would — but the draft copy was enough to cause a chilling effect among even legal immigrants hoping to apply for safety-net programs to help their families.
Eligible families for safety net programs have been pulling out of initiatives out of fear of deportation, as the Atlantic recently reported. At one Los Angeles, California-based health care center, a provider told the publication that the center had experienced a 20 percent drop in food stamp enrollments, a 54 percent drop in Medicaid enrollments, and a 82 percent drop in a health program that helps indigent adults. The publication also reported that a New Jersey-area FoodBank saw parents pull out of SNAP and WIC, programs meant to help children and infants.
“I strongly worry that this is going to start increasing food insecurity,” Carlos Rodriguez, the executive director of the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, told the Atlantic. “If this starts happening at any kind of scale, we can’t close the gap in terms of the meals that this will remove from families.”