15 July 2020
Many immigrant families are experiencing disproportionate economic and financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges that are more acute because of recent changes to federal immigration policy. Like many families around the country, immigrants in Houston are experiencing “chilling effects,” avoiding benefits and other supports for themselves or their children out of fear of the new public charge rule or immigration enforcement. The COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer of challenges, given that many immigrant workers and families are vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic but may fear accessing health care services and supports they need. In this brief, we focus on recent chilling effects in immigrant communities in Houston and emerging efforts of public benefit programs, safety-net health care providers, food banks, legal service organizations, and other immigrant-serving community-based organizations to engage and support immigrant families amid fear and confusion about the rule. We find that service providers in Houston are facing tensions between federal, state, and local stances on immigration, limitations in their ability to keep up with and inform families about changing immigration policies, and difficulties coordinating a unified message on a large scale. Despite these challenges, Houston has several strengths and opportunities that position it to help immigrant families navigate the public charge rule, COVID-19, and the safety net.