The Chilling Effect: Public Service Usage by Mexican Migrants to the United States

Katharine M. Donato, Rice University
Douglas S. Massey, Princeton University
Brandon Wagner, Rice University

A major shortcoming of most prior research on immigrant's use of social services is the inability to disaggregate findings by legal status. Data from the Census and Current Population Survey only distinguish between citizens and other foreigners, and very few data sets contain information sufficient to identify undocumented migrants with any reliability. The one exception is the Mexican Migration Project, which has compiled information on taxes paid and services used by Mexican migrants in all legal statuses for more than two decades. In this paper, we use these data to examine patterns and determinants of service use and tax payment. Our findings illustrate that rates of service usage dropped since 1986, while rates of tax payment and health insurance coverage rose. The net effect, we argue, has been a sharp decline in the use of unreimbursed services by Mexican migrants to the United States.

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Presented in Session 6: Immigrant Adaptation