2014: The fight for just immigration policies continues

11 Jan

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.src.adapt.960.high.1381527192055

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.

Housing and neighborhood quality among undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants

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.

Undocumented Latina Networks and Responses to Domestic Violence in a New Immigrant Gateway: Toward a Place-Specific Analysis

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.

Evaluating the Impact of Immigration Policies on Health Status Among Undocumented Immigrants: A Systematic Review.Summary:

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.

(Un)Healthy immigrant citizens: naturalization and activity limitations in older age

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.

How do tougher immigration measures affect unauthorized immigrants?

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.

Undocumented status: implications for child development, policy, and ethical research

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.

The Criminalization of Immigrants & the Immigration-Industrial Complex

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.


TCO’s bibliography of public health research that considers immigration legal status

21 Oct

The fate of immigration reform legislation this year remains uncertain (See below for more information).  What is certain, however, is that immigration policy, in its current and future forms, will always have a tremendous impact on the rights, resources, and safety, and, ultimately, the health of immigrants in the United States.  Public health professionals and immigrants rights activists will have to make critical assessments of how existing and proposed policies may protect or harm the health of our nation’s immigrants. Knowledge is needed for these efforts.  However, there is very little information about how immigration policies affect public health.

The Curious Ostrich’s Immigration-to-Health Policy Framework lays out the many ways in which policies may impact immigrant communities.  We now offer our readers the Undocu-Bibliography, a collection of articles in the public health literature that consider the social environment faced by undocumented individuals – from access to health care to stigma and stress. The bibliography was compiled through searches on Pubmed, a free database of biomedical research run by the United States National Library of Medicine.  We ran queries for articles on undocumented individuals that explicitly consider immigration legal status and how it affects well-being. This means that this bibliography focuses on studies that have conducted some form of analysis to assess the connections between immigration legal status and health.  Studies of undocumented individuals that gave only brief mention to the factors that impact lives of undocumented peoples were not included.

Stack of booksThe Undocu-Bibliography reflects the current focus of public health research on undocumented individuals: the majority of articles focus on access to health care issues. While an important factor in health, it is but a small contributor to the collection of factors that can affect people’s health. Worth reading are articles highlighted in yellow that provide a deeper analysis of social and political factors that play a large role in the health of undocumented people.

This living, working, evolving document will include a compilation of academic public health studies that consider undocumentedness.  Our goal is to create a resource that is useful for researchers and advocates. In the long term, we hope to create a record of the important research in this area and support further work in this area. We encourage readers to send us suggested additions to this bibliography.  If you are interested in learning more about where we found these articles and how we selected them, please check out our methods.  If you need assistance viewing and using this bibliography, please contact us at ostrichblog@gmail.com.   

News update: Immigrant rights activists rally Oct 5th

Oct. 5th March for Immigrant Dignity and Justice

Action on immigration reform may happen yet!  Immigrant activists all over the country rallied on Saturday, October 5th in 90 events at cities across the nation to demand legislation this year.  The biggest event took place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the iconic site of so many important civil rights struggles.  The National Park Service, technically on furlough because of the shut-down, opened up the Mall in the name of First Amendment rights to allow thousands of marchers to take the public space and demand “respect for our hard work and for the many contributions we make to the nation’s culture, economy, communities, and faith.” Similar marchers and rallies took place from Fresno, CA to the Twin Cities.  

While action is stalled at the National level, California has been leading the way in passing state-level pro-immigration legislation. The New York Times Editorial page has hailed this series of laws as a model for states to enact positive legislation in the context of federal inaction.  Among the bills signed this month by Gov. Jerry Brown, was a bill for drivers licenses for all in California and the TRUST Act, which would prevent cooperation with ICE in some circumstances.

Senate Immigration Bill, a harmful compromise that’s about to get worse

3 Sep

us-immigration-protest-1Last week our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, presenting us with an opportunity to take stock of the future “jobs and freedom” of undocumented individuals. The greatest hope for a dramatically different system of immigration came when the Senate voted 68-32 in favor of the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” It was hoped that this solid majority was would pressure House Republicans to take up the bill, or to pass a similar comprehensive reform bill that then could be taken to conference with the Senate bill. The problem is that in recruiting Republican (and some conservative Dem) votes, the Senate bill is a dangerous way forward that will exacerbate the harmful and inequitable aspects of the current immigration system. While there are many positive elements in the bill, there were too many concessions that have ultimately poisoned the effort.

Below we outline the major health implications, both the provisions that are positive (¡Bien hecho!) and the provisions that are harmful and should be deleted (¡Qué pena!).

¡Bien hecho!  Finally, there may be a pathway to citizenship. This is major. Many undocumented immigrants living in US will have the opportunity to gain a full set of rights as citizens. Immigrants who are allowed on the path to citizenship will have increased job opportunities, be less likely to be exploited in the work environment, have increased educational and economic opportunities, and be able to vote.

¡Que pena!  However, it’s too long of a pathway and it would not be an easy one. The Senate bill requires up to 15 years for undocumented immigrants to become citizens. That is 15 more years of diminished rights, including being barred from health care reform and other public benefits.  Individuals who are unemployed for more than 60 days will lose legal status.  Not to mention many individuals who will be ineligible to even begin this path.  Ultimately, around 4 million people, out of 11.5 million, will not ever enter or finish this path.

¡Que pena!  To entice the support of a handful of conservative votes, Democratic leaders added a boatload to the already bloated border spending. This $40 billion breaks down into 20,000 more agents (each armed with a lot of new and dangerous equipment); 700 miles of double-layered fencing, estimated to cost between $400,000 and $15 million per mile; at least $4.5 billion for surveillance technology in an effort to watch 100 percent of the southern border at all times, including drones at $18 million a pop and $3,000 and hour to fly; and millions more in contracts to IT companies to establish the national E-Verify system.  This is at a time when the sequester has slashed health and education programs indiscriminately. Any concern about this price tag was conspicuously absent from those who, traditionally, are eager to bring attention to the “cost” of immigration.  Plus, many corporations lobbied hard for extra security dollars that will ultimately please their shareholders.

¡Bien hecho!  Allows an expedited pathway to citizenship and legal permanent residence for DREAMers, some agricultural workers, and some individuals will temporary status.

¡Que pena!  However, these expedited pathways are based on a value judgement about the worth and deservingness of different classes of immigrants. Economic policies that have been instituted by the US (NAFTA is a biggee) are a major reason for the influx of immigrants.  Instead of acknowledging its own role in immigration, the Senate instead paternalistically dispenses rights and benefits based on how “useful” or “sympathetic” different immigrant groups are.

For more info on the Senate Bill, check out the Summary & Analysis from National Immigration Law Center.

Intransigent House Republicans

Any compromise with the House is going to introduce even more repressive measures to punish undocumented immigrants and their families. In fact, even Grover Norquist, one of the nation’s most conservative leaders (usually eager to cut taxes for the rich and cut social programs for the poor), has stated that legislation hasn’t passed because opponents (meaning mostly Tea Partyish Republicans and their ilk) are “anti-people.” Anti-people leaders, who are overwhelmingly white men with no concept of their privilege, have made it clear that they are not willing to share the benefits of this country with migrants. If a compromise must be made with these conservatives, it will water down many of the good provisions in the Senate bill, gained at a high cost of the punitive enforcement measures.
Next week Congress will be back in session (with a full plate of legislative issues), so it remains to be seen how the House decides to act.  However, it’s clear from the bills that have stumbled through House committees earlier this summer that the House is not serious about a comprehensive reform package and would rather cherry-pick policies appealing to their conservative base.  Here’s a summary of some of those policies:


In July, House Republican leadership announced this act to, supposedly, support undocumented youth brought to the United States as children. In actuality, they were probably just trying to support their own image. The act has been called DREAM Act Lite and the National Immigrant Law Center called it out for what it really is: “Certain House members want to create a perception that House leaders are interested in DREAMers’ contributions to our country. Unfortunately, the House’s actions over the past few months speak louder than their words.”


On June 18, 2013, the Judiciary Committee approved this bill by a vote of 20-15. This enforcement-only bill would increase the reach of the deportation dragnet by further integrating local law enforcement with Federal immigration enforcement. This bill would essentially mandate more enforcement and tie the hands of Federal, state, and local authorities to practice discretion over detaining and deporting individuals.  It would significantly expand enforcement policies and activities at the state and local level by allowing state and local governments to create their own immigration enforcement laws (remember Arizona’s SB 1070?) and expanding their immigration enforcement abilities – this is at the same time that it would restrict states and localities from noncompliance with involvement with ICE.  It would also restrict the Federal government from implementing the DACA policy and increase its responsibility to take custody of undocumented individuals apprehended by local jurisdictions.  It would also increase data collection and monitoring of undocumented individuals, including collection of information into the the National Crime Information Center database, while expanding criminal definitions of illegal entry and overstay of visas, gang membership and DUI driving.  Finally, it would subject individuals who transport or “harbor” a person with the knowledge that the person is undocumented to severe criminal penalties under a so-called “alien smuggling” provision.

Border Security Results Act

This bill would establish metrics for “security” – essentially trying to measure and track the level of border enforcement – and include the US-Canada border in these efforts under the pretense of preventing terrorism.  It would require that the metrics demonstrate that the Department of Homeland Security achieve 100% real-time surveillance of the borders and a 90% “effectiveness rate” (i.e. stopping unauthorized entries).  This bill has been touted as a more moderate and reasonable approach.  While it sounds a lot better than the SAFE Act, bill authors, Candice Miller (R-MI) and Mike McCaul (R-Texas) are using the influx of border enforcement funding to justify “accountability” for the success of these efforts.  More funding, they argue, requires proof of “success.”  This circular logic uses the increased funding to justify further militarization.  The bill passed the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security and the House Committee on Homeland Security unanimously.  Yes, that means it received bipartisan support.

As you can see, these are all enforcement and no path to citizenship.

When it comes to negotiations, sometimes the best move is no move at all. Even if the House were to pass a comprehensive reform bill, then it will be even worse, with more elements that blame immigrants and create toxic social environments. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act can only get worse. For these reasons, we should say no to reform as it currently stands.

People of color strongly support a true path to citizenship, what we like to call healthy immigration reform.  People of color are growing in number. There will be a price to pay for this hate-legislation, now is not the time to settle for a bad deal.