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Undocumented Immigrants, Public Services, and the 2016 US Presidential Election

Student Researchers: Sam Krumholz and Wayne Sandholtz
United States

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the rhetoric of the US government toward undocumented immigrants has harshened significantly, leading to increased fear of deportation among many in this group. This rhetoric has been accompanied by concrete actions: undocumented immigrants who have ever been convicted of breaking the law, even for a minor offense like speeding, are eligible for deportation under Trump’s plan. Despite these actions, immigration experts do not believe that a large increase in deportation has occurred, largely because of bureaucratic and manpower constraints. However, even if the real risk of deportation has not yet increased appreciably, anecdotal reports suggest that fear of deportation is having a real effect on people’s lives. For instance, a number of newspaper articles report on individuals afraid to go outside or call the police because of fear of immigration checkpoints and law enforcement officers.

Our research will examine how this exogenous shock of fear and "unbelonging" created by the Trump presidency affects the lives of undocumented immigrants. To do this, we will utilize open data on city services from the five American cities with the largest undocumented immigrant populations (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Dallas). Specifically, we will examine the following outcomes:

  • Daily crimes reported
  • Daily new business licenses
  • Daily new building permits
  • Daily 311 service requests
  • Daily transit passengers by route

Each outcome will be aggregated by census block group (data reports include addresses or coordinates). We will then compare how outcomes change in census block groups with high numbers of immigrants without college degrees (our proxy for undocumented immigrants in the census data) after the inauguration of Trump relative to the change in census blocks in the same city that have similar levels of income, poverty, and unemployment, but have low numbers of undocumented immigrants.

This analysis will allow us to see if the fear created by the election of Trump led to measurable changes in how undocumented immigrants choose to interact with their city and add to its economy.


Data collection is underway. The research team is gathering the data from the various open portals, cleaning the data, geocoding data without coordinates, and aggregating the data up to the census block level.