What do U.S immigration reforms mean for global health?

Immigration Reform

President Obama’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions are likely to have far reaching political and social implications. They also have serious implications for public health here in the United States and for global health as well. Depending on how this issue is settled in the long run, a reform of the U.S immigration system could mean life or death for millions of people around the world.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average, more than 50,000 refugees relocate to the United States annually. They come from diverse regions of the world and bring with them health risks and diseases common to all refugee populations as well as some that may be unique to specific populations. The rises in the number of cases of multidrug resistant tuberculosis (TB) along the southern border of the United States exemplifies the reality of the situation. Although many cases of TB occur in U.S born persons, two-thirds of new TB cases in the U.S are found in foreign born people. The transmission of TB is airborne and its treatment requires prolonged follow up.

Low-income immigrants are less likely than their U.S. born citizen counterparts to see a doctor even when they are insured. This is often because they are afraid to reveal their immigration status. As such, laws that encourage undocumented immigrants to “come out of the shadows” will favor early detection and control of disease. On the other hand, hasty deportations could mean a global spread of infections.

Ultimately, immigration reforms must balance the need to secure public health against the risk of placing too much burden on the capacity of the U.S health care system. Is there a cost effective way achieve this?

Let me know your thoughts.


This article was first published by the University of Michigan Risk Science Center

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