Editor’s Note: GrantWatch Blog invited Roger Hughes, executive director of St. Luke’s Health Initiatives (SLHI), a public foundation in Phoenix, Arizona, to write a post commenting on the new Arizona immigration law, passed 23 April 2010, and its potential effect on health in that state. SLHI does most of its funding in the Phoenix metro area. This funder “is focused on Arizona health policy and strength-based community development,” according to its Web site. Comments to this post are welcome!

GrantWatch Blog has added a few related resources below Roger’s post.

St. Luke’s Health Initiatives (SLHI) funds a number of neighborhood projects where promotoras (community health outreach workers) make house calls. They tell us that some Hispanic families have been refusing to go with them to a community clinic because they are afraid of being deported. When a family member does go for care, it’s often to the emergency room for something that could have been prevented earlier.

In the town of Guadalupe, Arizona, where my wife teaches third grade, some kids have been coming to school sick because their parents are afraid to take them to see a doctor. Two years ago, Joe Arpaio, America’s “toughest sheriff,” conducted a “sweep” of this heavily Hispanic community looking for people who were in the country illegally. He did it, of course, to root out crime and make the streets “safe for law-abiding citizens.”

Today, Arizona’s hard-line stance against illegal immigration is over the top. The new law (SB 1070), signed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in April 2010, requires that law enforcement officials or any “agency of this state or a county, city, town, or other political subdivision of this state” make a “reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of someone where a “reasonable suspicion” exists that they are an “alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”

The new law makes a bad situation even worse. Hispanics whose families have been in Arizona for decades tell us that they are preparing to carry documentation proving citizenship in the event that they are pulled over because they look “suspicious.” Children born in Arizona of parents here illegally could conceivably be accused of “transporting aliens” if they had to drive their mother or father to the emergency room at 3 a.m.

It’s insane. There is no other word for it. It is impossible to foster healthy individuals and communities in a climate of fear and intimidation. Community outreach programs, health fairs, local partnerships aimed at healthy eating and active living – all of it can come undone if people are afraid to leave their homes and visit a clinic, hospital, local community center, or church.

The law’s principal crafters are likely to achieve their objective of making Arizona an inhospitable place for people who are in the country illegally. Unfortunately, they run the risk of making Arizona a state where fewer and fewer Americans are likely to want to visit or live.


Related resources:

Arizona Immigration Law Backlash Intensifies: Protests, Boycotts, and Lawsuits Mount Up as State Feels Wrath of Opponents to Its New Policy,” CBS/Associated Press, 30 April 2010

GOP Holds Ground as Dems Offer Immigration Plan,” Kasie Hunt, Politico.com, 30 April 2010

Common-sense Principles for Immigration Reform,” Celia Hagert, Center for Public Policy Priorities (Austin, Texas) Policy Page, 29 April 2010.

“From the Talk to the Walk,” Roger Hughes wrote an essay (free access) on mental health and health policymaking, from a foundation executive’s view, in Health Affairs’ Narrative Matters section, May/June 2003. Narrative Matters is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“Hispanics and Arizona’s Immigration Law,” Pew Hispanic Center of the Pew Charitable Trusts, fact sheet, 29 April 2010.

“Immigrants and Health Care: Sources of Vulnerability,” Kathryn Pitkin Derose, Jose J. Escarce, and Nicole Lurie, Health Affairs, September/October 2007.

“Improving Coverage and Access for Immigrant Latino Children: The Los Angeles Healthy Kids Program,” Ian Hill, Lisa Dubay, Genevieve M. Kenney, Embry M. Howell, Brigette Courtot, and Louise Palmer, Health Affairs, March/April 2008. Research for this article was funded by contracts with First 5 LA and the California Endowment.