Faculty Voices: Crystal Yang ’13 on fear and the safety net

Professor Crystal Yang ’13 discusses her paper “Fear and the Safety Net: Evidence from Secure Communities,” which examines the link between tougher immigration enforcement in the United States and the lack of participation in government safety-net programs by Hispanic citizens.

Yang and co-author Marcella Alsan, professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, explore the impact of fear on the incomplete take-up of safety net programs in the United States. They exploit changes in deportation fear due to the roll-out and intensity of Secure Communities (SC), an immigration enforcement program that empowers the federal government to check the immigration status of anyone arrested by local police, leading to the forcible removal of approximately 380,000 immigrants. The authors estimate the spillover effect of SC on the take-up of federal means-tested programs by Hispanic citizens. Though not at personal risk of deportation, Hispanic citizens may fear their participation could expose non-citizens in their network to immigration authorities. They find significant declines in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment, particularly among mixed-citizenship status households and in areas where deportation fear is highest. The response was muted for Hispanic households residing in sanctuary cities.  They conclude results are most consistent with network effects that perpetuate fear rather than lack of benefit information or stigma.