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How anti-immigration policies hurt public health

Immigration is neither a new issue nor an exclusively American one. In 2017, there were more than 250  million immigrants living worldwide, and about 2.4 million people migrate across national borders each year. Migration also occurs within national borders—it is estimated that more than 750 million people live within their country of birth, but in a different region. Economic, political, and social forces drive migration. Migrants who are forced to leave their country due to war or persecution become refugees; there were over 65  million refugees worldwide at the end of 2017.

The health of immigrants in their adopted home is strongly shaped by social, economic, and political conditions in that country. Legal status in the host country, for example, is associated with access to a broad range of health services and resultant better health. A  study in Denmark found that while refugees were disadvantaged in terms of some cardiovascular disease outcomes, and equal or better off than a Danish-born comparison group in others, family-reunified immigrants had significantly lower incidence of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and myocardial infarction across the board.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, aggressive anti-immigration policies create poor health for the population they target. For example, family separation and detention at our borders traumatize families, deepening the mental health needs of this vulnerable group. And federal raids can affect the birthweight of babies born to USborn Latina women, following immigration authority raids in search of undocumented Latinos.

Creating the conditions for immigrants to stay healthy helps us all. Consider that  a measles outbreak in Minnesota was fueled by low vaccination rates among refugees, who often mistrust health providers and fear discrimination and deportation. Ultimately, this outbreak—caused by the conditions of marginalization faced by immigrants—threatened the health of everyone, immigrant and native-born alike. Policies which further marginalize immigrant communities can increase this risk. Rather than listen to voices that rail against the imagined evils of immigration, we should do all we can as a country to maximize the health of immigrants, by working to include them in the fabric of American life and providing them with the basic social services they need in order to be well.

Featured Image Credit: by Cytis via Pixabay

Recent Comments

  1. Stephen Kamugasa

    “Creating the conditions for immigrants to stay healthy helps us all.” I couldn’t agree more!

    Writing as a former refugee, I agree with Abraham Lincoln when he said, “A drop of honey gathers more flies than a gallon of gall.” And by ‘gathering more flies’ we should take it to mean, ‘better outcomes.’ Policies designed to make life difficult for immigrants tend to drive them underground, compromising government’s capacity to gather important intelligence in areas such as health; a failing that is injurious to all, regardless of their legal status in any given country. Governments should instead be encouraged to pursue imaginative immigration policies that ensure national security, and at the same time help nations meet their international obligations to humanity. This is a win-win approach. The alternative is to pursue policies that ultimately come crashing down each time they come face-to-face with a challenge like the Coronavirus pandemic.

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