Fear and the safety net: evidence from secure communities
This paper explores the impact of fear on the incomplete take-up of safety net programs in the United States. We 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. We 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. We find significant declines in SNAP and ACA enrollment, particularly among mixed-citizenship status households and in areas where deportation fear is highest. The response is muted for Hispanic households residing in sanctuary cities. Our results are most consistent with network effects that perpetuate fear rather than lack of benefit information or stigma.