On December 3, 2013, a group of activists, including labor leader Eliseo Medina, ended a 22-day fast on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The closing of this fast marked an official end to the legislative efforts of 2013 to pass an immigration reform bill. Despite powerful acts of protest and activism in support of policies that might improve the well-being of immigrant communities, the year resulted in many disappointments.
Despite the historic passage in June of a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate, which included provisions for a path to citizenship, it would have also ramped up enforcement and border militarization. In the second half of the year, the Republican leaders of the House continued to drag their feet, giving lip service to both their conservative base and the rising Latino and Asian electorate. Instead of taking up the Senate bill, the House leaders introduced (and, fortunately, failed to pass) many piecemeal bills, such as the KIDS Act, SAFE Act and Border Security Results Act, that came far short of achieving justice for undocumented immigrants.
As in previous years, there were a very high number of deportations in 2013, reaching nearly 2 million since President Obama took office. A recent New York Times article helped bring attention to the many struggles that families continue to face as a result of the deportation of a family member. These deportations have become a the central and incredibly harmful component of our nation’s immigration policy. Yet, President Obama continues to claim that he lacks the power to halt deportations, despite the mounting demands that he exercise his executive power.
On a more positive note, 2013 was the first full year of implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Reports indicate that many eligible young people have yet to apply, indicating that outreach efforts and legal clinics in 2014 will be critical to ensure all who are eligible can apply. Data as of August 31, 2013 indicate that about 567,500 people, only about 52 percent of the eligible, had applied, with significant differences across different ethnic groups and immigrants in each state.
As the fight for immigration reform continues, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) tumbles along. The latest development for the ACA has been the online health care marketplace, healthcare.gov. Each new provision is a political battle, with talking heads making predictions of the impending success or doom of the ACA. While the ACA is touted as a policy that will bring health care access to millions of Americans, its exclusion of many immigrants will not only harm their health, but the well-being of the entire nation. Legal permanent residents are included in the new system of health insurance options, with burdensome barriers. Undocumented individuals and those who have received DACA, however, are not eligible.
As a result, access to health care will continue to be a major problem for the health of immigrants. For example, Mexican immigrants have the highest rate of uninsurance at 13%. Now under the ACA, Latino’s are enrolling at lower rates than other racial groups. This may be due to reports of mixed-status families avoiding government programs for fear that they may be entangled with ICE.
Although access to health care is lower for immigrants, there are counties in California where all people have the right to access health care. Progressive counties like San Francisco have a health care system that gives access to all, whereas other counties, such as Fresno, provide health care to a smaller proportion of their population. The evolving and varied landscape of health coverage can be demonstrated by the report from the Health Access Foundation ”California’s Uneven Safety Net: A Survey of County Health Care.” The report describes access to healthcare for undocumented immigrants in counties throughout California. In each county the complex systems of care are the result of political battles over inclusion of undocumented individuals in public programs.
Immigrant’s rights battles will continue in 2014
Political battles to include all immigrants, regardless of legal status, are critical to ensure that individuals benefit from public programs such as the ACA, and are included in all aspects of national life – from the workplace, to schools, to communities. Indeed, it was the many movements and protests of 2013 that give us hope for 2014. One journalist titled 2013 The Year of the Immigrant Rights Movement.
The year’s bold activists, including the Washington Mall hunger strikers, did much of their work outside of the halls of Congress, taking their message directly to the source to critique the injustice of not creating a path to citizenship and the deportation industrial complex. In the California Central Valley, immigrants protested weekly outside of the home office of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. One protest included a sit-in by women whose presence forced the Representative and his wife to eventually show face and meet with them. Protests sprung up around the nation after a group in Tucson used their bodies to stop a bus filled with individuals en route to deportation. Other protests sprung up in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Finally, a brave group of youth, the Dream 9, attempted to enter the country (after leaving or having been deported). This act of civil disobedience highlighted the injustice of deportation, the border, and the lack of citizenship. While these actions did not show immediate results at the national level, state legislation in California, for example, moved to ameliorate the challenges that immigrants face because of federal policies.
New research will advance the health of immigrants
In 2013, the scientific literature on immigration status as a social determinant of health saw tremendous growth. One big problem with the public health literature concerning immigrants, and specifically undocumented immigrants, is the focus on access to health care. Here we have selected a few examples of articles that examine the consequences of undocumentedness, and how it can impact health outcomes.
The home is a place of safety and refuge. This article investigates the housing quality of undocumented Central Americans and finds few surprises. Poor housing quality indicators abound, such as crowding, poor structural conditions, and high concern regarding neighborhood environments, indicating that undocumentedness can impact the living conditions in which immigrants and their families find themselves.
In this article, the authors argue that networks of undocumented Latinas who have recently immigrated and who are without their familiar networks are vulnerable to domestic violence because they can become socially isolated and are not able to find help seeking safety. Undocumentedness results in a reduced set of rights for immigrants, and this articles explores the impact of reduced rights for victims of violence.
Authors of this article develop a framework for how immigration-related policies affect health and conduct a review of studies that examine how policies, specifically, affect health. The findings primarily focus on health care access, a reflection of the state of the literature more than the actual factors that affect health. From their findings, they recommend research to focus on health outcomes.
Using national data, this article investigated how naturalization among older immigrants related to their health outcomes. This may be one of the first studies to asses the effect of “receiving citizenship.” The authors make a strong argument for how naturalization affects political, social, and economic experiences and could potentially lead to differential health outcomes. The study found that older immigrants who naturalized earlier had better health than non-citizens. Curiously, a news article that reported on this study quoted Interim Dean of Portland State University who dismissed the importance of citizenship status.
Another much-needed paper on how immigration policies are having a wide range of damaging effects on immigrants and their families. This article uses data from interviews with Mexican immigrants who had been deported Mexico. Although they do not find that anti-immigrant policies affect access to services, they find these measures are linked to deportation fear and interstate mobility.
The authors of this article provide an argument for a deeper focus on on how undocumentedness can impact children’s development. These authors conducted an ethnographic study in New York of Chinese, Dominican, and Mexican families and have a clear understanding of the various life factors that are linked to undocumentedness that can impact the development of children.
This article was part of series written by social scientists on immigration. The entire series can be accessed here. This article, in particular, describes the exponential growth of the detention and deportation systems, a key factor in the lives of undocumented immigrants and their families. Other articles in the series describe other policies and social processes that shape the lives of immigrants.
2014 will be a critical year for the immigrant rights movement as activists maintain the momentum from 2013 and continue to pressure Congress and the President. All of the efforts of 2013 – from activism to research – suggest that there is hope for achieving just immigration policies that can improve the well-being of millions of immigrants.