By Charlotte Kaye, Health Policy Fellow
President Obama made clear in the State of the Union yesterday that immigration reform was at the top of his priority list; he demanded we “fix our broken immigration system.” Immigration reform is a constant topic of deliberation, but immigration will likely be brought to the forefront of debate again this year.
Joining the conversation will be women’s groups, health groups, and immigrant advocacy groups alike in order to draw attention to the issue of undocumented immigrant women’s health. “Immigrant women make important contributions to our nation’s economy, families, and communities, and will contribute even more under immigration reform. However, the very pressing health care needs of immigrant women and families continue to be marginalized in the national debate over immigration reform,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
Women currently make up 51% of immigrants in the United States; 55% of all green card recipients were female in 2010. According to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, immigrant women were less likely to access pre-natal care and other essential services after the 1996 Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program prohibited many immigrants from receiving public benefits. Firstly, the lack of access to health care for any person is harmful, and secondly, is dangerous for immigrants in particular. Undocumented men and women are at greater risk for health issues such as poor mental health and occupational hazards than the general population (for more information on specific health issues in the immigrant community check out: NIRR website).
The reality is that women’s health must be addressed when discussing immigration reform. Immigration reform will help undocumented immigrant women receive more affordable quality health care. Studies have demonstrated that access to health insurance and lower out-of-pocket health costs promote a healthier community. The President explained that independent economists say immigration reform will help our economy significantly and shrink the U.S. deficits. Part of the growth in economy will be due to a healthier population. Approximately one-sixth of the United States’ population is made up of documented and undocumented first generation immigrants and their children. Aspiring citizens are paying taxes, working, and contributing to our economy and communities, and it’s important that their health needs are addressed in a timely and affordable way. Looking out for women’s health across the board is vital to a healthy economy, a healthy nation, and to everyone having access to the care they need when they need it.