Ostrich In-depth: 11 Immigration and Health Issues of 2011

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[Posted Dec. 30, 2011]

Almost a year after the US Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, Joaquin Lunatook his own life. An 18-year old with a dream of becoming a civil engineer, his last note to his family and the conversations he’d had with friends in his final days suggest that one of the factors that fed his depression and desperation were the limited opportunities he faced in the US because of his immigration status. This story has a particularly tragic end, but the reality that Joaquin faced is all too common in the US today. Immigrants, regardless of legal status, are regularly excluded from the rights and protections of citizenship and are subjected to xenophobia from individuals and society at large.


Source: Center for American Progress

This exclusion is no accident. Our state and federal policies systematically deny immigrants, their families and communities opportunities for education, economic security and other resources. Xenophobia is perpetuated through political rhetoric, media and popular opinion.

The result? Our existing immigration system and our nation’s attitudes towards immigrants extend beyond material consequences to the physical and emotional health of individuals. As is sometimes said, inequality can “get under the skin.”

We are all complicit in the immigration system and attitudes against immigrants – from benefiting from the low-cost labor of immigrants to failing to take a stand against xenophobic language or sentiment in our communities and workplaces.  This means that we all have a responsibility to change it. Over the course of 2011, The Curious Ostrich has drawn the link between immigration policy, attitudes towards immigrants and the health of immigrants.  Below is our assessment of the most important political, economic and social issues of 2011 related to immigration and health. By “keeping our heads up” our hope is to demonstrate the human costs of our immigration system and identify opportunities for action to ensure everyone in the US has the opportunity to be healthy. As we enter 2012, we will keep our heads up.  We hope you do, too.

1. Immigrants dying to cross a militarized border – When even moderate politicians are clamoring for a “secure border,” what that actually turns into is a militarized border. Higher fences, more border patrol, the use of drones and other human-tracking technology all result in more extreme and dangerous paths of entry. In what is perhaps the clearest example of the life and death consequences of immigration policy, we see many migrants risking this militarized border to seek economic opportunities in the United States. Unfortunately, many do not survive the journey. The Arizona human rights organization No More Deaths interviewed immigrants arrested by Border Patrol agents and found that 86% needed, but were denied, emergency medical treatment, and another 10% were subject to abuse. For more info about the health impacts of a militarized border, see the full report.

2. SComm and detention centers lead to fear and criminalization – Secure Communities (SComm) and immigrant detention centers are examples of how a lack of accountability, combined with discriminatory policies, perpetuate a system of abuse that has severe physical and psychological consequences. These systems and policies, like Alabama’s HB 56, instill so much fear that undocumented immigrants are forced to hide and endure violations, which ultimately have a deleterious impact on health.

3. State laws codify racism – In 2011, following Arizona’s lead, states across the country passed broad anti-immigration policies. This trend is best highlighted by Alabama’s H.B. 56 – which requires a person to show proof of legal status for any “businesstransaction” with the state. What activities are considered “business transactions”? Registering in school, signing up for trash collection and water services, getting vaccinated, and being employed. These far-reaching immigration policies, which prevent people from accessing the opportunities and resources needed to be healthy, perpetuate the deep racial and health inequities in our country.

4. Racist and xenophobic rhetoric becoming increasingly acceptable – Underlying these discriminatory policies is deep-seated racism and xenophobia. Political leaders at the highest levels are advocating for and acting on policies that explicitly discriminate against immigrants – from Republican candidates Bachman and Romney campaigning on the deportation of all undocumented immigrants, to Arizona’s Sheriff Arpaio basing policing and detention work on racial profiling. While the Justice Department finally started to hold Sheriff Arpaio accountable, releasing a report earlier this month stating that Arpaio led his Sheriff’s Office in “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos,” the growing displays of overt racism among our country’s leaders is troubling.

5. Local economies hurt by xenophobic state laws -
The economic impact of state anti-immigration laws are far reaching- small business owners have lost customers, farmers have lost profit and local governments are losing tax revenue.   Under the already weak economy these communities are facing further economic downturn as a result of the effort to scapegoat immigrants. This means fewer resources for all residents in these states to promote their general well-being, from tax revenues for education to funding for health care programs.

6. Congress and the President continue attack on immigrant workers -Although Congress failed in its attempt to make it mandatory, the Obama administration has continued to push employers to voluntarily adopt the greatly-flawed E-Verify worker database.  Immigrants face the threat of being barred from the opportunity to gain dignity and economic security for themselves and their families.
7. Anti-immigration laws further impoverish immigrant families -

Anti-immigration laws, poor working and living conditions and deportations all leave immigrant families economically vulnerable.  Family economic stability is critical for good health – poverty not only limits families access to health-promoting resources, from health care to healthy food, but creates stress that can lead to poor health.

8. Impact on the most vulnerable, the children –   Immigration policies, and the resulting personal consequences, can severely effect the healthy growth and development of children in several ways: 1) causing undue stress in families 2) promoting barriers to essential services and 3) maintaining a lower class status of immigration families that deny access to essential resources needed for healthy development. In the report from ARC, Shattered Families, we see that 5,100 children are in the child welfare system because their parents have been removed through deportation. Families are being split up, and the number of orphans created by ICE is expected to go up to 15,000 if this current trajectory continues. Even President Obama is recognizing that his 400,000 deportee quota is causing serious problems.

9. Students denied the right to an education, but some states pushed back -  Despite the clear benefits, undocumented immigrants and their families are denied the right to education because of discriminatory policies.Education is one of the strongest predictors of health and well-being. Individuals who receive an education are more likely to be healthier, have better jobs and gain more financial security, which translates into benefits for our society as a whole. We saw the failure to pass the National DREAM Act  in 2010 and its delay in 2011 (introduced in May) and the effects of Alabama’s HB 56 on Latino children who, despite being documented, were fearful of going to school because their parents were undocumented.  However, on a more positive note, some states, like California and Illinois, took the initiative to pass their own version of the DREAM Act, though they excluded a pathway for citizenship.

10. Double discrimination for LGBT immigrants – If the hateful rhetoric and institutionalized discrimination against unauthorized immigrants in the US were not sufficient, LGBT immigrants are exposed to a second layer of discrimination. LGBT immigrants are denied the opportunity to gain citizenship through marriage. LGBT immigrants may face homophobic cultures in their home countries that can make return a question of personal safety. A report by the Williams Institute of UCLA demonstrates that 12% of the 650,000 same-sex partnerships in the US have at least one immigrant partner means that this is an issue impacting affecting a significant portion of our population.

11. Immigration policies deny immigrants the right to health care access – In June 2011, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released a study estimating that 220,000 children in California alone will not receive health care coverage because of their or their parents’ immigration status. Immigration policies repeatedly deny immigrants the right to access health care, including treatment and primary care services for mental health, chronic diseases and acute care. Some policies directly exclude undocumented immigrants, as in the national health care reform law which prohibits undocumented immigrants from participating in the health care exchanges or access federal programs. Others, as in Alabama’s HB 56, go so far as to limit doctors’ rights to practice medicine. http://thecuriousostrich.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/ostrich-in-depth-11-immigration-and-health-issues-of-2011/