Is Arizona’s immigration law spreading risks to public health?

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Last month, a federal judge blocked the most severe aspects of SB 1070, Arizona’s new immigration law. This means, at least for now, Arizona law enforcement officials won’t be required to check immigration status for every person they suspect could be an illegal immigrant, and legal immigrants won’t be required to carry their immigration documents at all times.

If upheld on appeal, the law would likely increase fear and decrease immigrants’ appropriate use of health services. While immigrants are generally healthier than people born in the United States, incur lower health care costs, and use the emergency room less, no group is free from risk of disease. Driving undocumented immigrants further underground would undoubtedly lead some to forego preventive care and timely treatment. Some may defer care, leading to complications requiring expensive emergency treatment. Others will have potentially deadly, communicable infections like tuberculosis, measles, or flu that could be easily cured or prevented with appropriate care. These effects of the law endanger public health.

There are alternatives for immigration reform, such as federal-level H.R. 4321, which seeks to increase enforcement while protecting civil rights and mapping paths to legalization and citizenship. Meanwhile, immigration laws with enforcement requirements similar to Arizona’s SB1070 have been proposed in other states including Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Indiana, Nevada, Utah, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Idaho, and Michigan. If you live in one of these states, urge your elected representatives to consider the impact of harsh immigration enforcement requirements on public health.


4 Responses to “Is Arizona’s immigration law spreading risks to public health?”

  1. tsam4 Says:

    I think this is a very interesting topic. If the utilization of healthcare services is less among undocumented immigrants in the United States, I question whether the effect of the Arizona immigration law would significantly impact this utilization, esp since part of the reason for the lack of use is their undocumented status and insurance ineligibility. Your point about delay in care and its effect on healthcare costs and disease outcomes is certainly well taken. Therefore, the public health effects of this are fairly significant and may be difficult to track because the undocumented status.

  2. jolionmcgreevy Says:

    I agree with your observation that the law would increase fear among immigrants and, therefore, decrease utilization of health services. I have seen this phenomenon with regard to schools — where parents who came to the U.S. illegally are afraid to push for the education rights of their children (who were born here). Whatever the solution to immigration reform, it’s clear that creating a culture of fear is a problem, one with far-reaching consequences.

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