Opinion

Diagnosis: It’s Time to Examine the Realities of Immigrant Health

Graphic courtesy of Mia LaRocca

Since the 2010 enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), concerns — and misinformation — about Obamacare have dominated and polarized discussions about access to healthcare in the United States.

It’s no secret that President Donald J. Trump made healthcare reform and immigration his top priorities.

During his first day in office, Trump issued an executive order allowing federal agencies to delay implementing any piece of the ACA that imposes a “fiscal burden” on states, healthcare
providers or patients.

Since no one knows what the future of healthcare will look like, patients covered by the recent expansion of the ACA are left waiting in fear.

This fear is valid, but reevaluating our current healthcare policy is another chance to promote health equity for everyone in the United States.

Many health systems, healthcare providers, patients and advocacy groups are asking that immigrant health be considered regardless if the ACA is replaced or not.

As of 2015 there was an estimated 500,000 uninsured patients in Chicago alone, according to Illinois Health Matters, and without coincidence there were an estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants in Chicago.

When these individuals fall ill, they confront two flawed systems: immigration and healthcare.

Contrary to popular belief, immigrants don’t have many options when faced with chronic illnesses or even a common cold.

In order to understand this interconnected relationship between immigration and healthcare, we must recognize that immigrant health needs are no different than ours.

Undocumented immigrants don’t have access to Obamacare. This includes youth with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status and undocumented workers, most of whom pay Social Security taxes on their income but are still excluded from Obamacare, Medicare and most other government services.

The only U.S. health benefit immigrants receive is from the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act, which requires a hospital to treat any individual who’s in a true medical emergency.

Even Legal Permanent Residents (LPR), or “green-card” holders, can’t access Obamacare marketplace insurance, Medicaid or Medicare until they’ve been present in the United States as a LPR for more than five years.

The effects of anti-immigrant policies are far-reaching in their ability to undermine the health and wellbeing of immigrants, their families and communities.

Current healthcare and immigration policy heightens the racialization of anyone perceived to be an immigrant, which extends to documented immigrants and their U.S.-born counterparts.

Immigrant health should be important to everyone because there’s no benefit in denying care to a group.

The greater community is at risk if immigrants don’t receive appropriate and timely healthcare as this creates a burden on the health system that the Affordable Care Act attempts to avoid.

This connection between healthcare and immigration relates to the urgency of Trump’s immigration ban and forces us to continue questioning systems of oppression.

Anti-immigration policies and racism undermine health and healthcare for everyone as this perpetuates social inequalities and allows suffering to be perceived as a normal part of society.

This is not normal.

No human being should have to suffer from a chronic illness with no relief. No human being should feel unsafe or unwelcome in his or her community.

Embracing the health of immigrants will foster a safe, welcoming environment for everyone in the United States.

At Loyola, we’ve taken historic steps to create a campus which embraces student diversity, regardless of immigration status.

In fact, Loyola is the first university to provide scholarships for undocumented undergraduate students and welcomes DACA students to pursue graduate medical and law degrees.

These students are valuable members in the Loyola community; therefore, it’s alarming to have no official statement about the sanctuary status of our campus.

The decision to become a sanctuary campus is complex, but officially declaring Loyola’s sanctuary status will help reduce fear and anxiety for specific students while on campus.

We have the power to create change as members of the Loyola community. Tell Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney you want Loyola to be a sanctuary campus. Get involved by organizing, educating and contacting local representatives.

Now is the time to transform feelings of frustration into something creative, positive and uplifting for our immigrant communities.

AccessibleHealthChi is a resource that was developed to connect patients to free or low-cost healthcare in the Chicago area.

The application features more than 120 organizations that advocate for immigrant health and often provide free or low cost services.

If immigration status hinders you or someone you know from finding adequate healthcare, please utilize and share this application.

Anyone can use AccessibleHealthChi to support immigrant health and get involved in the community, as the majority of these organizations need volunteers, interpreters, interns and allies.

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