The health and well-being of immigrants 10 years after 9/11, 9/5 – 9/12

12 Sep

A halfdozen ways in which 9/11 changed the immigration landscape, MultiAmerican, 9/11/11

How 9/11 Led to an Attack on Immigrants, El Diaro New York, 9/7/11

Leslie Berestein Rojas of the media blog Multi-American and Michelle Garcia of El Diario New York provide excellent overviews of how the September 11th attacks have changed the nation’s policies, priorities and attitude towards immigrants. Both articles are essential reading to understand the context in which the health and well-being of immigrants, their families and communities has unfolded in the last 10 years. Public health advocates, health care providers and those committed to promoting population health should examine how this context is shaping the health of millions of Americans, both immigrant and non-immigrant. To begin, here’s my summary of three ways that 9/11 changed the health and well-being of immigrants:

  1. Deaths of border crossers and detained immigrants – At the most extreme, people have died because of post-9/11 policies. Because of increased border security, pathways into the United States are increasingly dangerous, resulting in deaths in the desert along the US-Mexico border. Today’s news media places the blame on border crossers themselves for these deaths, yet prior to 9/11 our border with Mexico was amorphous, allowing for seasonal and economically-driven migration of Latin American workers between countries that benefited both migrant workers and their employers. Deaths have not been limited to the periphery of our nation.  On our nation’s watch, immigrants in detention have died due to lack of medical care and abuse.
  2. Decreased access to public health services and resources As we’ve highlighted in multiple Curious Ostrich posts, including this week’s news summary, government policy has specifically excluded immigrants from public health services. Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, a state-level example, has received a great deal of negative press for its law. However, excluding immigrants has become so acceptable that it is tacitly accepted as the norm for most policies. For example, there was no major outcry against excluding undocumented immigrants from the hallmark Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that this policy decision runs contrary to the health policy goal of achieving affordable healthcare for all. More insidious than the policies themselves, fear of deportation is as powerful a barrier to public health services as any exclusion policy.  (See our many posts on this)
  3. Increased social and economic marginalization – While access to public health services is important for promoting health, social and economic factors, such as income and job security, have a greater influence on people’s health across the course of their lives. Policies that limit opportunities to earn a living, such as use of E-Verify, increase economic deprivation in immigrant families.  Policies to increase enforcement, such as Secure Communities, push undocumented immigrants more into the shadows and put documented immigrants at risk of being racially profiled, creating a strong message that they are feared and despised in the US.  Social epidemiological research shows that  economic and social marginalization is bad for anyone’s health: economic instability are associated with poor mental health; experiencing racism is associated with increased risk for hypertension and heart disease. Recent research of children of undocumented immigrants has shown that the stress and limited resources that undocumented parents must contend with has a negative impact on their children’s development.

Our post-9/11 society is bad for the health of immigrants, as well as their children and the communities that they live in. The attacks of 9/11 were a tragedy for the US, but the result does not have to continue to be a tragedy for immigrants’ rights, health and well-being.

Public health advocates and health care providers should champion immigrants’ rights, a path to citizenship and the demilitarization of the US-Mexico border. We should do this not only because it is what is just, but because it is sound public health policy.

In other news:
Grist for Left and Right in Perry Immigration Record, New York Times, September 8, 2011

Perry’s rhetoric as he campaigns and the response from conservative Republican primary voters respond to it will be a bell weather of how immigration will be treated in the 2012 campaign season.

Latino Kids Have Greater Chance Of Going Hungry In US, FOXLatino, 9/8/11
U.S.-born children of undocumented parents have more difficulties getting access to nutrition programs because their parents do not ask for help out of fear of being arrested or deported.

Latino Ground Zero Workers Struggle with Health Issues, FOXLatino, 9/8/11

Immigrant cleanup workers near Ground Zero have suffered many respiratory and digestive disorders. Despite the fact that there have been some health and funding programs to provide medical care to those who participated in cleanup efforts, many immigrants have not benefited due to lack of information as well as fears of being deported.

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