Trump Administration Immigration Policies Are Harming Children and Families in the Greater Boston Area

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All children in Massachusetts—no matter their background or circumstances—deserve the opportunity to just be kids: To know the love of their families. To have a safe, stable place to live with plenty of healthy food to eat. To play with their friends. To go to school and learn without fear. To grow up to become thriving, productive adults.

As we document in this brief, harm is evident in the Greater Boston area, where immigrant families’ daily lives are being upended by harsh immigration policies and children are losing out on vital health, nutrition, and educational services as a result. Whether it’s systematically separating migrant children and families at the border, arresting hundreds of immigrant parents in massive worksite raids on the first day of school in Mississippi, or factoring the “cost savings” of eligible U.S. citizen-children losing public benefits in its public charge regulation, the Trump Administration has demonstrated time and again that it is indifferent to—and in some cases emboldened by—the harm its policy decisions inflict on children across the country.

Building on research conducted in 2017,[1] the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) conducted a series of site visits in 2019 and 2020 to deepen our understanding of how immigrant families are affected by immigration policy changes at state and federal levels. This brief draws on in-person and phone interviews with more than 30 individuals representing child care providers, home visitors,[2] health and mental health care providers, and legal service providers in the Greater Boston area (see page 8 for more information).

Key Findings Include:

  • Fears are pervasive, evolving, and disrupting families’ day-to-day lives
  • Families are avoiding publicly funded health, nutrition, and education services for which they are eligible, even for their U.S. citizen-children
  • The threat of family separation is taking a toll on the health and wellbeing of children and their families
  • Trusted service providers are under immense pressure and facing new, complex challenges

Immigrant families in the Greater Boston area

The Greater Boston area (which includes Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk, Essex, and Middlesex counties in Massachusetts, and Rockingham and Strafford counties in New Hampshire) is culturally, linguistically, and ethnically diverse. Nearly 1 million immigrants—about 20 percent of the metro area population[3]—call Greater Boston home, and roughly one-third of all area children have at least one parent who was born outside the United States.4 The vast majority of immigrants in Greater Boston are from Latin America (40 percent) or Asia (32 percent).[5]

Source: The Urban Institute, Data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series datasets drawn from the 2016 and 2017 American Community Survey.

Greater Boston has a long history as an immigrant-friendly area, but the particular communities in which immigrants live have shifted dramatically over time. For example, communities south of Boston have historically had larger concentrations of foreign-born residents, while communities just north of the city— including Chelsea, Lynn, and Malden—have seen dramatic increases over the course of the last 30 years.[6] The demographic shifts in areas surrounding the city are due in part to the rising cost of living in Boston proper, particularly rent and housing costs that have led families with lower household incomes to move further out into the region.

Despite this history—and the state’s progressive reputation—Massachusetts has struggled to enact immigrantfriendly legislation, such as in-state tuition or drivers’ licenses for undocumented residents. Massachusetts is also the only state in New England to have active 287(g) agreements,[7] which deputize local law enforcement agencies to carry out immigration enforcement activities at the expense of local taxpayers. Research shows that 287(g) agreements make immigrant residents fearful to contact police if they are victims of or witnesses to a crime in their area, putting the safety of the entire community at risk.[8]

Key findings

Fears are pervasive, evolving, and disrupting families’ day-to-day lives

In our interviews with providers, we consistently heard that they are seeing wide-spread and evolving fears of immigration-related consequences among the families they serve. Providers told us that anxieties regarding immigration enforcement and confusion about different immigration policies have always been present in the communities they serve. However, they were clear that those concerns seem more acute in the current context and are having marked impacts on how families go about their daily lives.

For example, a family services provider with an early childhood program noticed changes after the 2016 election. “And it was immediate,” she said. “There was no lag time there.” Initially, she said parents were primarily concerned about immigration enforcement and being deported without their children. And while those concerns are still present, they are now compounded by questions about the immigration consequences of participating in publicly funded programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

>>Read the full report