The ‘Chilling’ Effects of Misinformation: Why Immigrants Avoided Welfare Programs that were Excluded from the Public Charge Rule

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CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal
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public charge rule
immigration policy
immigrant integration
political rumors
social media
political science
michael jones-correa
American Politics
Immigration Law
Public Policy
Social Welfare
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In 2019, the Trump administration dramatically expanded the Public Charge Rule to restrict the number of people eligible for visas and green cards. The revised rule made it more difficult for immigrants to enter or remain in the United States if they were dependent on public assistance. This paper investigates why eligible immigrants avoided welfare programs that were excluded from the Public Charge Rule following its announcement in 2018. Building on literature about political rumors and immigrant integration, this paper presents a quantitative and qualitative analysis of misinformation about the Public Charge Rule and the subsequent drop in immigrant welfare usage. Data on misinformation was collected from online news articles and two social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, from 2018 to 2021. The findings demonstrate the prevalence, common sources, and characteristics of misinformation. Discontinuity analysis was employed to determine the extent to which immigrant welfare participation declined following waves of misinformation about the Public Charge Rule. There is clear evidence that misinformation consistently emerged after important announcements about the rule, followed by a stark decline in immigrant use of public assistance programs that were excluded from the public charge criteria and thus had no bearing on their immigration status. This paper argues that misinformation about the Public Charge Rule was largely responsible for this counterintuitive welfare avoidance by spreading fear and confusion among immigrants. The resulting lack of critical health and nutrition services will have significant consequences on the health, well-being, and integration of immigrant communities for the indefinite future.

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