Existing state and local enforcement of federal immigration laws can have an adverse impact on the use of health care services by immigrant Hispanics, according researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
The study focused on the use of prenatal care by Hispanic women shortly before and after implementation of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which authorizes U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement to enter into agreements with state and local agencies to enforce federal immigration laws during their regular law-enforcement activities. Researchers analyzed both birth records and information collected in focus groups and individual interviews from the nine months preceding implementation of 287(g) and nine to 18 months after implementation in seven North Carolina counties that signed on to the program and seven counties that did not.
Lead author of study, Dr. Scott D. Rhodes said, "Our findings suggest that immigration enforcement policies negatively affect the health of immigrant Hispanics, including those with and without documentation." It was found that rates of late and inadequate prenatal care among Hispanic mothers increased in the counties that implemented 287(g) while those rates in the non-participating counties declined.
Rhodes said, "Overall, participants reported fearing immigration enforcement policies and avoiding or delaying utilization of health services, thus endangering their own health and that of their families."
Initiatives to educate immigrant Hispanics about their rights and the availability of services would help to increase their utilization of health care services. The researchers also suggested that public officials weigh public health considerations when deciding whether and to what extent federal immigration laws should be enforced on the state and local level.
The study is published in the 'American Journal of Public Health'.