With immigration and deportation being common topics of current US news, it seems intuitive that mass deportation could have a significant effect on the health of populations at risk for such activity. In fact, numerous studies have provided evidence of the health risks for these people.

In a study published in the February 2018 issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers analyzed the effect of worrying about deportation on mothers in Salinas, California.1 The investigators found that deportation fears were linked to an increased risk of obesity, increased blood pressure, and higher body mass index, all of which can contribute to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Another study published in the June 2017 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology found that babies born to Latina mothers within 37 weeks of an immigration raid in Iowa had a 24% percent greater risk of lower birth weight than babies born in the year preceding the raid.2 Additionally, an increased risk in preterm birth was also found among Latina mothers compared with non-Latina white women during the same period.

Evidence from the May 2017 issue of Psychological Trauma found that children who have been separated from an immigrant parent in deportation proceedings have increased levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).3 The authors note,  “Analyses indicate that PTSD symptoms as reported by parent were significantly higher for children of detained and deported parents compared to citizen children whose parents were either legal permanent residents or undocumented without prior contact with immigration enforcement.”

Similar findings are noted in numerous other studies, with measurable and negative health impacts related to fears, worry, or the experience of deportation raids. A study published recently in BMC Public Health looked at increased deportation concerns that stemmed from the results of the 2016 US presidential election and its impact on the health of Latino immigrants in Southeast Michigan.4 Consistent with other studies, the results were as follows:

“Our findings show three major themes: (1) An increased and pervasive fear of deportation and family separation among mixed-status immigrant clients, (2) The fear of deportation and family separation has resulted in fractures in community cohesion, and (3) Fear of deportation and family separation has had an impact on the healthcare utilization and health-related behaviors of mixed-status families. Staff members report that these three factors have had an impact on physical and mental health of these immigrant clients.”

Some of these findings prompted the introduction of a policy at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Academy of Physician Assistant’s House of Delegates, the policy-making arm of the academy. The policy was first brought to the attention of the House of Delegates by the Society of PAs in Addiction Medicine, of which I am the current president. The policy passed in the House and is now an official policy of the AAPA:

 “AAPA recognizes that policies disrupting families and communities living in the United States have significant negative physical and mental health implications, in particular when minor children are involved. Thus, AAPA supports alternatives to mass deportation of immigrants and reiterates its support of the historical duty of PAs to deliver high quality-care to all patients regardless of their immigration or citizenship status.”5

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Some other medical and nursing associations have also framed deportation as a medical issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in 2017, noting,

“Far too many children in this country already live in constant fear that their parents will be taken into custody or deported, and the message these children received today from the highest levels of our federal government exacerbates that fear and anxiety. No child should ever live in fear. When children are scared, it can impact their health and development. Indeed, fear and stress, particularly prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can harm the developing brain and negatively impact short- and long-term health.”6

As the evidence of the negative health effects and personal fears of deportation increases, the question no longer is whether or not there are measurable effects on health; instead, such evidence calls on physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other medical professionals to further define our roles in order to minimize the related health impact of deportation on our communities.

References

  1. Torres JM, Deardorff J, Gunier RB, et al. Worry about deportation and cardiovascular disease risk factors among adult women: the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas Study. Ann Behav Med. 2018;52(2):186-193.
  2. Novak NL, Geronimus AT, Martinez-Cardoso AM. Change in birth outcomes among infants born to Latina mothers after a major immigration raid. Int J Epidemiol. 2017;46(3):839-849.
  3. Rojas-Flores L, Clements ML, Hwang Koo J, London J. Trauma and psychological distress in Latino citizen children following parental detention and deportation. Psychol Trauma. 2017;9(3):352-361.
  4. Fleming PJ, Lopez WD, Mesa H. A qualitative study on the impact of the 2016 US election on the health of immigrant families in Southeast Michigan. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):947.
  5. 2019-2020 Policy Manual. American Academy of Physician Assistants. https://www.aapa.org/download/51507/. Updated June 26, 2019. Accessed July 18, 2019.
  6. Stein F. AAP statement on protecting immigrant children. American Academy of Pediatrics website. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAPStatementonProtectingImmigrantChildren.aspx. Published January 1, 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019.