The negative impacts of anti-immigration policies on public health are not always obvious. The Center for American Progress has released a study looking at how anti-immigrant policies affect the everyday lives of undocumented immigrants and their communities. The study focuses on migrants in North County, California, near San Diego. One of the key findings is that anti-immigrant policies, such as Arizona’s SB 1070, Alabama’s HB 56 and Secure Communities, in practice transform local law enforcement into immigration agents and result in racial profiling. In fact, 43% of immigrants in the study reported feeling negatively targeted by police, contrasted with 8% of whites reporting in another poll. This, in turn, creates a deep distrust and fear of local police that pushes undocumented immigrants — and their relatives and friends– to avoid contact with the police. Because of this, driving and walking in public were the top two activities of concern reported among the study participants. The consequences of people fearing local police affect entire communities. As the authors explain, “…when unauthorized immigrants fear interacting with law enforcement, it makes us all less safe — whether we are documented or not.”
From a public health perspective, this report highlights how policies generate unhealthy and toxic social environments by creating a mixture of distrust, fear and hostility between different segments of a community, in this case undocumented immigrants and their loved ones versus local police. If people don’t even feel safe enough to walk in their neighborhoods or to call the police when faced with a dangerous situation, such as domestic violence, how are we supposed to build healthier environments?
For example, there is a lot of attention around addressing the obesity epidemic in the Latino communities by increasing access to fresh foods and parks where people can exercise and walk to daily activities. But these health promotion efforts will fail if anti-immigration policies destroy a basic sense of community safety, such as feeling free to walk the streets or drive to the supermarket without fear of arrest for “looking suspicious” or having a broken tail-light. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by this study, under Secure Communities, these examples are legitimate threats to immigrants. Anti-immigrant policies undercut our public health work by building oppressive and toxic social environments. It is time that public health insert itself into the immigration debate and draw the links between anti-immigrant policies and poor public health outcomes. Otherwise, we risk the health and lives of our communities.
In the News
Iraqi Immigrants in California Town Fear a Hate Crime in a Woman’s Killing, New York Times, 3.27.12
A community fears that hate crime and racism against Iraqi immigrants resulted in the brutal murder of an Iraqi woman.
Georgia’s anti-immigrant bill seeks to deny access to water, school and passports as IDs, Wall Street Journal, 3.26.12
Georgia’s SB 458, sponsored by Senator Barry Loudermilk, is translating to a bill that would deny basic rights such as access to public water and sewage services, education, and most recently allowing foreign passports as acceptable ID.
Another report highlights deep problems with detention centers and New Jersey is the newest example, Washington Post, 3.23.12
Despite the Obama administration’s emphasis on reforming the civil detention system, centers like New Jersey have been found to deny basic services such as healthcare, food and legal assistance.
Immigration’s loose rule of detention, Los Angeles Times, 3.18.12
In this editorial, the LA Times holds the Obama administration accountable and demands that it ensure that detention centers treat immigrants fairly and humanely.