Protect Immigrant Health, Behavioral Scientists Advise


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As of 2017, the U.S. is home to roughly 44 million immigrants – the largest number of immigrants in the world, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The majority of immigrants are Latino. They relocate from Mexico as well as other countries such as El Salvador, Cuba, Dominican Republic, India, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

To protect immigrant health—as well as the general public wellness—scientists from the Society of Behavioral Health (SBM) recommend that congress impose strict restrictions on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intervention in or around medical facilities.

“Protecting the health of immigrants promotes health equity and is an important investment in protecting the health of the American public including schools, families, communities, and workforce,” SBM’s report states. “Clinicians and health care professionals are central to achieving the healthiest America possible. Reaching immigrants in a medical environment that is safe for both health care professionals and immigrants is a key component in providing appropriate medical care and protecting public health.”

The August 2019 SBM report follows in suit with the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association’s support of similar recommendations.

Immigrant Health

Present political sentiments, commonplace inflammatory rhetoric, parental separations, and tear-gassing of migrants along the border have many Latinos feeling the burden of an anti-immigrant climate.

According to SBM’s policy brief, “this is a public health issue because it can place immigrants, their families, and the general public at risk for undiagnosed, undertreated, and untreated acute, chronic, and communicable health-related problems,” including:

  • Delays in care for acute conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, and seizures
  • Undiagnosed and/or poorly managed chronic health conditions such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, liver disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and renal disease
  • Delays in seeking prenatal care — resulting in adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes including low birth weight, preterm births, and other obstetrical complications
  • Higher rates of chronic or untreated stress-related mental health and behavioral health problems, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder
  • School absenteeism and nonattendance
  • Lower rates of immunizations
  • Lower rates of screening and early and timely treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections
  • Higher rates of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis that can result in community-wide health threats
  • Premature deaths

Due to the public health crisis, SBM urges Congress to protect the health of immigrants as well as their children’s and families by limiting ICE’s surveillance of or admission into health care settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Community clinics
  • Ambulances
  • Pharmacies
  • Physical therapy practices
  • Dental offices
  • Mental health and addiction treatment facilities
  • Rehab

Why We Must Protect Immigrant Health

Due to ICE’s broad authority to act at its discretion—and their ability to detain immigrants in safe areas such as hospitals and other healthcare settings—immigration arrests have dramatically increased. ICE agents have been able

Worse, these kinds of seizures are exposing children to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), primarily because of parental incarceration, which may have severe consequences for their adult health and well-being.

Safeguarding immigrant health is imperative, and it is a needed asset to public health in America.

Laws that support ICE interventions in or around healthcare settings are a threat to healthcare as they are linked to poor health outcomes.

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