HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Immigration Laws Affect Health Status

As some of you who attended the panel on immigration and health law issues chaired by Wendy Parmet at which Nathan Cortez, JoNel Neuman and I spoke, one of the serious consequences of law’s like Arizona’s SB 170 is that it discourages people from seeking medical care for themselves and their children for fear of being stopped and asked for immigration papers. This short article in the American Journal of Public Health describes what was essentially an incidental finding in a study of childhood obesity: concern about being stopped by the police has had a negative impact on public health.  The authors write that “Our findings from a study on childhood obesity in Flagstaff suggest that the law changed health-seeking behaviors of residents of a predominantly Latino neighborhood by increasing fear, limiting residents’ mobility, and diminishing trust of officials. These changes could exacerbate barriers to healthy living, limit access to care, and affect the overall safety of the neighborhood.”

The article calls for more research into this phenomena (hint for those considering applying for funding to study law & public health issues).  The same week it decided the Affordable Care Act case, the Supreme Court also upheld provisions of SB 170 which allow local and state law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals who they are questioning for other reasons, it is likely that other states will soon adopt similar laws. This is a good example of a direct link between a law which has nothing to do with financing health care and a change in the health status of those affected.


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