The Curious Ostrich Immigration Policy-to-Health Framework

20 Feb

At the Curious Ostrich we provide updates and analysis on immigration news – providing health professionals and immigrant rights activists a “heads up” on immigration, xenophobia, and health. Looking at current events and national policy through a health perspective, we see that our immigration laws are powerful determinants of health for immigrants in the United States.  In the past, few public health researchers have focused on the ways immigration policies affect the rights, opportunities, and health of immigrants. But the public health field is increasingly taking notice that immigration policy is health policy. We believe that we will be more likely to achieve justice for immigrants and healthier communities when public health professionals understand (and address) the social and policy contexts that impact immigrant communities.

Last year, the American Public Health Association issued a policy statement supporting an end to the Secure Communities enforcement program.  The American Journal of Public Health published a recent study calling for more research on how state-level immigration policies, specifically, SB 1070, affect public health.  A growing number of researchers are trying to document and understand how policies and the experience of being undocumented affects health, such as immigrants’ access to health care (Stevens et al., 2010; Vargas Bustamante et al., 2011) and the impact of family separation, legal vulnerability, and stress in undocumented families (Arbona et al., 2010; Brabeck and Xu, 2010).

This is an important starting point!  Yet, the immediate experiences of immigrants and their families are the result of the full context of their lives in the United States, as well as our nation’s often anti-immigrant history, culture, politics, and laws.  Public health research and action must reflect this full picture.  

We have created a framework to illustrate the web of factors related to laws and policies that have an impact on the health of immigrants.

Immigration and Health Diagram_6

1) Our laws and policies are rooted in historical, political and cultural contexts.  The US has implemented immigration policies since it founding, including deportation and exclusionary policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Each wave of anti-immigrant policy has been driven by racist and xenophobic narratives – immigrants viewed as a threat or as undeserving. The legacies of these cultural narratives and harmful policies continue to impact how immigrants are treated both in our political and popular debates and narratives.

2) These laws and policies influence the circumstances of immigrant’s lives, specifically their rights, resources, and safety.  Can immigrants access appropriate and affordable health care services? Do immigrant workers receive fair wages and are they safe in their workplaces? Are immigrant children able to attend schools and universities?  Do immigrants feel respected and safe in their communities? All of these questions are decided by specific federal, state, and local policies that expand or limit the rights and resources that determine the opportunities for immigrants and their families, as well as their overall safety in this nation as they pursue those opportunities.  These three factors are interconnected, as rights can create safety and access to resources or safety and resources can support individuals to exercise their rights.

3) These three factors are also inseparable, because the positive presence of all three are needed to promote positive physical, mental and community health outcomes.
When protective factors – such as access to health and educational services – align, immigrants will experience greater health and well-being. The lack of any or all three of these, such as limited access to employment and educational opportunities, stress and fear due to discrimination and anti-immigrant legislation, or vulnerability to violence, result in significant health risks.

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. Our hope is that this diagram provides a framework for considering how various immigration policies may actually impact immigrant communities.  For example, the debate on “comprehensive immigration reform” is just heating up. It is heartening that there is growing support for a path to citizenship, but the proposals currently being developed would make the process lengthy and burdensome and continue existing bans on receiving public benefits. The proposals would also further codify border militarization and enforcement programs. Public health has an important role to play in these debates – ensuring that the true community costs are considered as immigration policy decisions move forward.

When we look at this diagram, we also see many opportunities for action! People working in all areas of public health can incorporate an immigrants rights perspective into their work. In the coming months, we will provide information and discussion on some of the main health issue areas in this diagram. And we will share ideas and opportunities for health and immigration activists alike to participate in this work.

Stay tuned to the Curious Ostrich for up-to-date health research and analysis.

Advertisements

2013: New opportunities for healthy immigration reform?

9 Jan

The Curious Ostrich has big plans for 2013! We are now moving to a monthly format, providing readers with in-depth analysis and commentary on the public health impact of immigration policies and national conversations around immigration. As always, our mission is to bring attention to the ways immigration policies affect health and to provide information and resources for health and immigration advocates alike. Want regular updates on immigration issues? Like our Facebook page!TCO cover

Over the course of 2012, a number of policies and events across the country significantly, and often negatively, affected the health of immigrants and their communities. Deportations continued at an all time high, separating families and at great cost to our economy. Due to programs such as Secure Communities 1.6 million people were deported during President Obama’s first term. Our nation’s growing immigration enforcement system now receives more funding than all other federal enforcement agencies combined. This focus on enforcement and a militarized border increased border violence and resulted in many deaths, some perpetrated  by the US Border Patrol itself.

Immigrants also continue to be denied many basic rights. For example, while the Affordable Care Act (ACA) goes a long way in expanding access to health insurance, undocumented immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals-approved individuals are barred from new health insurance programs. At the state level, although the Supreme Court knocked down many of the provisions in Arizona’s immigration bill SB 1070,  the “paper’s please” provision will move forward.  Other states continue to follow Arizona’s lead in anti-immigrant legislation.

The impact of xenophobia and anti-immigrant politicking is not limited to immigrant communities. For example, in 2012 the Violence Against Women Act, a traditionally non-controversial, bi-partisan bill, failed to be reauthorized for the first time in its history. This was in part due to Republican supposed opposition to protections for immigrant women.

In 2012, we also saw promising policies and inspiring activism by undocumented immigrants, particularly youth. Influenced by ongoing activism by DREAMers, President Obama granted deferred action to “childhood arrivals” (DACA), creating the largest opening in many years for undocumented individuals to gain work permission and protection from deportation. While not a long-term solution, DACA created opportunities for many young immigrants.

Exciting grassroots mobilizations also helped raise the profile of immigrant issues and pushed forward a more progressive policy agenda. The Caravan for Peace turned attention to the human impact of border violence and the United State’s role in drug war violence; undocumented youth are using art and creativity to assert their rights; DREAMers sat-in at Obama campaign offices; the Undocubus shared stories at the Democratic National Convention; and the Campaign for the American Dream team walked from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about immigration policy.

Moving into 2013

Building on this momentum, 2013 brings new opportunities for making immigration policy more just and protecting immigrant communities. President Obama’s re-election turned new attention to the power of communities of color in our political system and we now have the most diverse Congress in US history. Polling suggests that the public and elected officials are ready to consider immigration reform. President Obama has repeatedly stated that comprehensive immigration reform will be a priority early on in his second administration. However, for too long, political debates about immigration have focused on controlling immigration through the criminalization and stereotyping of immigrants.  Therefore, we hope to see these policy discussions and decisions acknowledge the importance of immigrants to our society and economy and affirm that all people, including immigrants and regardless of their immigration status, have rights as residents of this nation.  Specific policies that we would like to see from the 113th congress include:

      • Create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the US.  The increasing numbers of young immigrants applying for deferred action demonstrates that creating a process for undocumented immigrants to apply for papers is not only relatively politically non-controversial, but is feasible and has tremendous positive impacts. This is a start, but temporary status for a small portion of undocumented immigrants is not enough.  There are still roughly 11 million individuals who lack papers and a path to citizenship. This is an injustice, not only to these individuals, but to their families and communities and the nation as a whole.
      • Reduce deportations and keep families together.  Enforcement programs and deportations needlessly tear people from their jobs, communities and families, with devastating emotional and economic impacts.  A simple fix would be to end programs such as Secure Communities.  In addition, policies are needed to end the fear that deportations have caused by creating clear delineations between local police officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
      • Create accountability over and reform the detention system. The unregulated and unhealthy network of privatized detention centers must be reformed and regulated. This should include expanding accountability and oversight for current detention centers.  The all-historic-high number of detention beds in centers and county jails creates a gross profit motive and should be reduced.
      • End the militarization of the border.  Border fence and patrolling policies throw money into militarization, rather than the true safety of people in the United States.  There should be an end to financial support for the border fence, reduction in funding for the Border Patrol, and increased oversight over the Border Patrol, including the training and background of officers and their use of surveillance technology.
      • Increase access to education and social services for all immigrants.  Immigrants should be positively included in public policies.  This is a matter of both fairness and of effective crafting of public policies, as economic, social service and health policies ultimately have an impact on immigrant communities, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Violence Against Women Act.

The connection to health

At The Curious Ostrich, we believe that all of these policies and their resulting challenges and opportunities for immigrants are public health issues. Immigration policies, and related social and economic policies, directly impact the health of immigrants in a number of ways – from reduced access to essential services and resources to the  fear and stress that result from discrimination, criminalization and deportation. Over the course of 2013, we will continue to explore these links between immigration policies and health:

      • Access to health care— Many people are barred or have limited access to health insurance and health care services due to their immigration status. Access to regular primary care is important in preventing many diseases (e.g. diabetes), while limited emergency care services results in unnecessary deaths.
      • Diminished rights and protections— Fear of deportation diminishes the rights of undocumented individuals by shaping their decisions about accessing services such as education or police protection. For instance, many undocumented workers are victims of wage theft, yet they do not have legal recourse without risking deportation.
      • Access to resources— Diminished rights lead to reduced access to resources to lead a healthy life. For example, undocumented immigrants may choose not to access public resources, such as education or social services, because they believe they are not eligible or they are afraid of coming into contact with government officials.
      • Discrimination— There is widespread anti-immigrant sentiment embedded in our national policy and media discourses, and anti-immigrant groups continue to advocate effectively for policies that devalue and dehumanize immigrants because of their lack of legal standing. From conservative politicians campaigning on deportation policies, to widespread discriminatory commentary in the news, there is a strong national narrative that a lack of papers justifies less-than-humane treatment.

There are feasible policy solutions that can reduce the risks to and protect the health of immigrant communities. There are dynamic and mobilized advocates who will continue to fight for the rights of immigrants.  Public health advocates can play a critical role.  Therefore, in 2013, our hope is to see not a continuation of the short-term and enforcement-focused policies often associated with “comprehensive” immigration reform, but rather the promotion of healthy immigration reform.

Republicans submit faux-DREAM Act proposal, the Plight of Domestic Workers, and the History of US Immigration Laws

1 Dec
Senators Jon Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Getty Images)

Senators Jon Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Getty Images)

Post-presidential election paths to immigration reform are emerging

In the presidential election Mr.Obama won the Latino and Asian vote by a large margin. Post-election analysis has suggested that Mr. Romney’s hard line approach to immigration was a major factor for the gap. He was never able to present a convincing argument to these constituencies and maintain his “self-deportation” strategy. There now appears to be consensus between the two major political parties that immigration reform should be a priority. Democrats may feel like they have a mandate, while Republicans understand they won’t be able to win elections without receiving more of the Latino and Asian vote.

Republicans are pushing forward two immigration measures, the ACHIEVE ACT and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Bill. The ACHIEVE Act was introduced by Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison and would create a new visa for undocumented youth. The ACHIEVE act requires that applicants arrive before the age of 14, instead of age 16 as specified in the DREAM act. The visa holders would also be prohibited from federal student loans or any other kind of public benefits. Another bill the Republicans are pushing is the STEM Bill which would create visas for advanced degree graduates. These visas would be taken from another program that promotes immigration from low-immigration countries. There will likely be many months of wrangling between Republicans and Democrats before we see the new immigration reforms. These policies continue to offer minimal relief, and would end up causing many more problems in the long term.

Immigration status and affects domestic workers’ pay

A new report on pay and working conditions from the National Domestic Workers Alliance has found that undocumented domestic workers are worse off than citizen domestic workers. Undocumented workers on average receive 20% less pay, are more likely to be required to do strenuous work, more likely to be injured on the job, and more likely to work while injured. The current immigration policies weaken worker protections and create situations across the country where immigration status is exploited by employers.

23 moments of immigrant policy in the United States
ABC News and Univision have created summary of 23 pieces of legislation that have shaped the US’s current immigration policy, starting with the Naturalization Act of 1790. The article is a glimpse into the complicated and shameful history of US immigration law.

“Reform” for whom?; deportation is the problem; DACA update; and the 10 worst detention centers 11/12-11/18

18 Nov

Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsay Graham

What’s really in immigration “reform”?  
Seth Freed Wessler of Colorlines.com posses the question: “What qualifies as “reform,” for whom and at what price?“ Those who are concerned about the well-being of immigrants should be wary of the political rhetoric starting to fly about the halls of Congress and the airwaves of the mainstream media. The dominant narrative in the US is that the immigration system is broken.  This narrative helps perpetuate the view that undocumented people are criminals or lawbreakers.  As a result, the policy “solutions” that are likely to be re-introduced in the next Congress focus heavily on enforcement measures.  Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsay Graham, who co-authored a bill that failed in 2010, are likely to take the lead.  In interviews after the election, both stated that their plan would be “heavy on enforcement and avoid anything that sounds like amnesty.” As Colorlines.com reports, immigrant advocates are prepared to take a stand against so-called reform measures that increase enforcement.

Deportation the problem, not immigration courts
A report by the Inspector General of the Justice Department highlights our nation’s broken enforcement and deportation policies. The report determined that the backlog of cases in immigration courts are due to increased deportations, not problems with the court system.  Currently, immigration judges are ruling on an average of 1,200 deportation cases each year and the system still has a backlog of over 300,000 cases of individuals awaiting to see whether or not they face deportation.

 
Over 50,000 individuals approved under DACA
In total, over 300,000 applications have been filed.  Data released by USCIS show that over 80,000 applications have been submitted by individuals in California, almost 50,000 from Texas, and almost 20,000 from New York.  It is predicted that as many as 100,000 individuals will be approved by the end of the year.  The New York Times predicts that the number of applicants is likely to increase now that President Obama’s re-election ensures that the policy will continue.

“Expose and Close” campaign pushes for closure of 10 detention centers
Detention Watch Network’s campaign to end the nation’s detention system has released a report highlighting the conditions in 10 of the worst detention centers in the US.  They document the chronic human rights violations in these 10 centers as a means of drawing attention to the rampant abuses and lack of oversight across all 250 of ICE’s detention facilities.

President Obama Wins a Second Term, 11/5 – 11/11

12 Nov

President Obama will have a second chance to enact comprehensive immigration reform that he campaigned for on in his first bid of the presidency in 2008. There is more hope than ever now that the Republican party has begun to realize their need to bolster support from the Latino community. In the analysis of the race, many pundits lay blame for Romney’s loss on the hard line he took on immigration. Romney advocated for “self-deportation” which would make life so miserable for immigrants, that they would return to their home country on their own volition. Romney also counted Kris Kobach, architect of AZ SB1070, among his advisors during his campaign. As a result of these stances, Latinos came out in favor of four more years with Obama by a wide margin. Notable conservatives are arguing for a new strategy that welcomes Latinos to the GOP. With the growing Latino population, GOP would be wise to listen to Sean Hannity. Otherwise, the Democratic victories on Nov. 6th might be the first of many.  Even the notorious sherriff from Maricopa County is striking a conciliatory tone, saying that he wants to meet with Latinos to explain his policies. Although, unless he dramatically changes course he is unlikely to receive a receptive audience. In addition to getting pushback from moderates, there is a growing movement that seeks to push back against his abuse of power.
In other election related news, USC’s Center for Study of Immigrant Integration has released a report on the vote of Naturalized citizens, a group that represents 3.6% of voting aged citizens in the US.

Giants Closer Sergio Romo Makes Statement with t-shirt
On October 31st, the San Francisco Giants led a parade through San Francisco celebrating their World Series victory. Sergio Romo, one of the team stars, and child of Mexican farmworkers, wore a t-shirt that read “I just look illegal.” The shirt brought attention to the debate on immigration and the stigmatizing use of the word “illegal” by many in the anti-immigrant movement. The t-shirt was a bold statement in sport that often prefers to avoid political controversy.

10/25 – 11/1: Updates on Elections, Bay Area Immigration Policies, and Deportation

3 Nov

What to Watch in the Election:
Tuesday is election day! In addition to the presidential race, several states will decide on significant immigration policies. Some to watch out for: In Maryland, voters will face an initiative similar to the DREAM Act – offering undocumented youth in-state tuition at state universities. A Montana initiative would require immigrants to provide proof of citizenship in order to access state benefits programs. This legislation, like other state laws adding barriers to accessing services, will place unreasonable hardship on immigrants and their families in accessing basic social services. Given the lack of comprehensive immigration policy reform at a national level, states and local governments will continue to pass immigration policies – though some states are working to protect immigrants rights, the trend is overwhelmingly towards punitive immigration policies.

Local Policy Updates:
In the Bay Area, this week brought two positive changes to our local immigration policies. Alameda County joined a small number of counties nationwide that will now explicitly consider deportation in criminal prosecution proceedings. Under this new policy, announced by the County’s District Attorney, prosecutors will consider the threat of deportation when handling low-level non-violent crimes. In addition, the DA modified the guidelines for plea bargains to enable a number of alternative sentences, such as longer jail sentences, rather than mandatory deportation. In the past two years, 1,700 people arrested by Alameda County local police have been deported, only 73% of whom had been convicted of a crime; this is a step in the right direction, but it remains unclear if these modified policies will significantly minimize the risk of deportation for non-violent offenders.

In Berkeley, the City Council passed a policy in which the City will no longer comply with Secure Communities – Berkeley Police “will not honor requests by ICE” to detain individuals that are thought to be undocumented immigrants, in the case that they are no longer being held for criminal proceedings. Berkeley’s new policy is thought to be one of the strongest disavowals of S-Comm nationally, and advocates hope this will facilitate additional jurisdictions passing similar policies in the future.

Supreme Court Case on Deportation:
In 2010, in the Padilla v. Kentucky case, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants must be told about the possible consequences of pleading guilty – including the risk of deportation. This week, the Court heard a new case – Chaidez v. United States – to determine if the Padilla decision should apply to deportation cases heard prior to 2010. Roselva Chaidez is a lawful permanent resident, she lives with her two children and three grandchildren – all US citizens. In 2007, as part of her application process to become a citizen, she disclosed a prior conviction – her attorney did not advise her at the time about the potential deportation consequences of this disclosure. This case highlights the precarious status of immigrants and their families, and the complicated legal hurdles immigrants must navigate. As we are seeing with the deferred deportation policy, many immigrant youth are afraid to apply out of concerns about the potential future consequences of declaring their undocumented status. The process for gaining rights to residency or citizenship should not put immigrants at risk of deportation.

Pilot Deportation Program:
The Federal government is starting a two-month pilot program it hopes will protect the safety of immigrants deported to Mexico. Under the new program, immigrants will be sent to Mexico City, rather than returned to border towns; the Mexican government will then provide bus fare to return to their hometowns. The pilot is designed in part to protect immigrants who face significant safety concerns when dropped off on the border; however critics feel that this will make it more difficult for immigrants to return to their families. The program does not fully address the significant human rights issues at the center of our current deportation policies – and it will be critical for immigrants rights advocates to monitor this pilot. Having a ‘humanitarian’ deportation program does not justify US deportation policies. However, as deportations will continue it is essential that the US government address the challenges and dangers involved.

Support health insurance access for deferred action youth! 10/20-10/25

25 Oct

Submit comments to HHS to allow DACA-approved individuals to participate in the Affordable Care Act – [Deadline October 29th]
The California Pan-Ethnic Health Network has released a call for advocates to submit comments to the Department of Health and Human Services to speak out against the recent decision to exclude DACA-eligible individuals from the Affordable Care Act.  Anyone can submit comments and, to make the job easier, a sample letter is available.  Simply follow these instructions to submit comments electronically:

  • Step 1: Go to www.regulations.gov
  • Step 2: Search for document ID ” CMS–9995–IFC2″ to find the regulation on DACA and health care. Make sure you are commenting on the “Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan” Interim Final Rule (Thanks to Natalie for the clarification)
  • Step 3: Click on “Comment Now” button to submit comments

CPHEN’s call reminds us that this policy:

  • Runs counter to the primary goal of the ACA – to expand access to affordable health coverage.
  • Will lead to higher health insurance premiums for everyone by excluding young, healthy individuals from enrolling in coverage in the Health Benefit Exchange.
  • Will likely lead to poorer health outcomes and increase health disparities by denying young immigrants the care they need.

Despite this effort to reverse the recent HHS decision, other undocumented immigrants and legal permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for less than five years are excluded from new coverage opportunities under the Affordable Care Act.  States such as California that have large immigrant populations will continue to have many uninsured individuals.  For more information, visit The Kaiser Family Foundation, which provides an excellent overview of immigrants’ eligibility to participate in health coverage expansion from the Affordable Care Act.

“Adios Arpaio” in full force
A vibrant “Adios Arpaio” campaign has been actively registering voters and mobilizing to ouster Joe Arpaio from his position as Sherriff of Maricopa County, Arizona.  Just this week, a lawsuit was filed against the sheriff for the death of Ernest “Marty” Atencio while in county custody.  The Adios Arpaio campaign is made up of a coalition of Latino and immigrant rights advocates and local unions, such as UNITE HERE, and has registered 34,000 voters.  Particularly active are students from the local high schools who have become politically mobilized because, in the words of one, “they have the same issue inside, that they can’t stand discrimination against Latinos.”  Organizers say this is a long-term strategy to mobilize the Latino vote in Arizona: “The next one will be Jan Brewer.”

President Obama says he’s confident he can achieve Comprehensive Immigration Reform during a second term
In an previously off-the-record interview with an Iowa newspaper, President Obama expressed confidence that he could achieve an comprehensive immigration reform bill during a second term, specifically, because “the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community…George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America.”