Tag Archives: Secure communities

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.

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.

States and citizens push back against Secure Communities; Immigrants continue to face labor protections, 7/2-7/9

12 Jul

CA State Senator Tom AmmianoCalifornia moved forward with legislation to limit Secure Communities

CA State Senate passed the Trust Act, a bill intended to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement policies. The bill would prevent police and sheriff officials from detaining a person for deportation if that person does not have a prior felony conviction. 75,000 people have been deported from California since Secure Communities was implemented in 2009. Fewer than half of these individuals were convicted of serious violent felonies. By limiting the reach of S-Comm, the Trust Act will decrease the fear and stress that is caused by this policy.

Secure Communities also places many citizens and legal residents at risk of detention

This week Secure Communities faced its first legal challenge from a U.S. citizen. An Illinois resident is suing the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, after he was detained for two-months in a maximum-security prison when immigration officials mistakenly identified him as an undocumented immigrant. Under Secure Communities, local police check fingerprints against immigration and FBI databases. This sharing of information is a violation of the Privacy Act – and for some, like James Makowski, results in serious violations of personal rights and freedoms. This also demonstrates that immigration policies do not limit their harm to undocumented immigrants.

Expanded protections for all immigrant workers needed

Labor abuses of immigrants coming to the US through guest worker programs continue to be uncovered. Most recently, Wal-Mart stopped supplying seafood from C. J.’s Seafood after the National Guestworker Alliance publicized severe labor violations ranging from low wages to threatened physical abuse. The H-2B guest worker visa program has been subject to investigations by the GAO for a series of complaints about wage and working condition violations. New labor laws that were to take effect earlier this year have been postponed due to pushback from large businesses and cuts in enforcement funding.

President Obama continues to court immigrant voters

President Obama attended a naturalization ceremony for active duty military members, using the opportunity to speak about the importance of legislation such as the Dream Act, which would enable a path to legal status for immigrants who serve in the military or attend university.

Affordable Care Act constitutional, expands coverage, not for everyone, 6/26-7/2

5 Jul

Photo: Paul Miller

ACA Ruled constitutional, undocumented still left out
The Affordable Care Act was ruled constitutional on the last day of the Supreme Court season. ACA will expand coverage for citizens and legal immigrants, however, undocumented immigrants, including children will not be included in this expanded coverage.

Further discussion on SCOTUS SB 1070 decison
After the decision, both immigrants’ rights, and anti-immigrant groups declared victory. Several provisions were rejected, some were kept. As the Nation highlights, many immigrants rights activists are rightfully concerned about the racial profiling that will likely come out of the “reasonable provision.” National immigrants rights network NNIRR agrees in a press release that warns about the implications of the SCOTUS decision.
Another development on the federal level is the decision to end 287g, to expand Secure Communities. The program that deputizes local law enforcement as immigration agents will end, but will coincide with the expansion of the program (SCOMM) that shares fingerprints of local law enforcement subjects with federal immigration databases.

California DREAM Graduation

Photo: National Immigrant Youth Alliance

California DREAM Graduation in San Francisco
In San Francisco on June 30th, young undocumented activists celebrated their accomplishments with Angela Davis in front of City Hall in San Francisco. The DREAMers have a lot on their mind, from the SB1070 SCOTUS Decision to the recent deferred action memo, but their activism is not done yet. As one graduate, Mohammad Abdollahi was quoted in the Huffington Post, “We need to stand up for our human rights”

5/9- 5/15: An Opportunity for President Obama to Act

16 May

While President Obama’s speech this week about immigration in El Paso, Texas was a disappointment to many immigrant activists, it has prompted more national attention to immigration. The New York Times published an editorial arguing that the President needs to do much more than he has to advance immigration reform. Suggestions included introducing legislation, pushing Congressional leaders for their support and abandoning the Secure Communities program, which they described as a “failed strategy of mass expulsion.” Senate Democrats reintroduced the DREAM Act and Representative Howard Berman introduced the bill in the House. The scrutiny over Secure Communities also continues to expose its flaws and inconsistencies, prompting states and cities like Illinois, California, and Albany, NY to resist participation. California Watch reports that “in Illinois, ICE data shows that 46 percent of those booked into federal custody through Secure Communities had never been convicted of a crime.” In California, AB 1081 would allow each county to negotiate its terms with Immigration and Customs enforcement. Other advocates and media organizations put a face to the problems with Secure Communities. Recently, Isaura Garcia, a victim of domestic violence, found herself in danger of being deported after attempting to report the abuse she was suffering. A program that boasts of improving the safety of communities does the exact opposite.

In his speech, President Obama indicated that he sees immigrants as an important part of not only our economy, but also our communities. If he is really serious about creating an environment that does not exploit immigrants and which does not force them to live in the shadows , he needs to back up his statements with actions that prioritize the rights of undocumented immigrants. As the discontent over Secure Communities mounts, coming notably from staunchly Democratic states, he has an opportunity to show his commitment by suspending the Secure Communities program. It is a program that pushes immigrants further into the shadows and subjects them to even more exploitation and abuse. After all, a community is not safe if the individuals in that community – with papers or without – don’t feel they can report abuse or walk outside of their homes without fear of being stopped by a police officer and being uprooted from their homes.

Related News

Some fear program could be bad for health, Boston Globe, May 6, 2011

In this Letter to the Editor, Professors at Harvard Medical School argue that Secure Communities also affects the physical health of immigrants by instilling fear and anxiety which could lead to chronic diseases and avoidance of health care.

Arizona taking immigration law to U.S. Supreme Court, San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 2011

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is pressuring the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the most controversial parts of Arizona’s immigration law. The deadline to file the appeal is July 11th.

Utah Immigration Law is Blocked, New York Times, May 10, 2011

Federal judge in Utah has temporarily blocked a state law from being implemented that attempts to “curb illegal immigration.” The hearing is set for July 14th.

In Border City Talk, Obama Urges G.O.P to Help Overhaul Immigration Law, New York Times, May 10, 2011

President Obama addresses the nation regarding his plans for immigration reform.

City revises its stance on undocumented immigrant youths, San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 2011

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announces that the city will “no longer report to immigration authorities juveniles suspected of being in the United States illegally when they are arrested on a felony charge if they can show they have family ties to the Bay Area, are enrolled in school and are not repeat offenders.”

Less than Citizens, Abolishing Birthright Citizenship would Create a Permanent Underclass in Our Nation, Center for American Progress, May 11, 2011

This brief discusses the problems with conservative legislation that attempts to block citizenship rights to children born in the U.S. whose parents are undocumented immigrants.