From the temporarily delayed Senate Bill 4, which cracks down on “sanctuary cities,” to the decision to wind down a program that gives work permits to young people living in the country illegally, undocumented families in Texas are on edge.
They’re afraid of getting deported, and that fear has kept many from feeling safe outside their homes. For some, that means skipping out on doctor’s appointments and forgoing necessary medical care.
The recent wave of state and federal policies cracking down on illegal immigration and the swirl of what’s perceived as anti-immigrant rhetoric over the past year have turned anxiety about deportation into a real fear for many undocumented families.
And that fear has become toxic, Juan Carlos Cerda says.
Under stress, health falls by the wayside
Cerda is a “Dreamer” – undocumented and a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. His parents brought him to the U.S. illegally when he was just 7 years old, and for the past 17 years they’ve called Dallas home. He’s now an immigration campaign organizer at the Texas Organizing Project.
“A lot of people in the community are just worried about going out into the streets and coming in contact with a raid or just seeing ICE officers, so there’s a lot of fear, a lot of threats coming from a lot different places,” Cerda says.
He said his greatest fear is losing family – and many like him are willing to risk a lot to stay together – even their own health.
“Sometimes when we’re under a lot of stress, we forget about basic things like breathing. We put our health on hold. We lose sleep, we don’t drink enough water, and we don’t eat healthy things,” Cerda says. “It can be really hard to talk to people even about what we’re feeling – why we miss an appointment, why we’re acting a certain way, why we’re shying away from things. We just want to protect ourselves.”
Higher no-show rates
It isn’t just happening in north Texas. It’s widespread, according to Karen Mountain, who is the CEO of the Migrant Clinicians Network. The Austin-based nonprofit provides training and support to 10,000 federally qualified health centers around the country. Last year, they served 24 million people – many of them are undocumented.
“What we’re finding and hearing from all over the country is a huge concern around whether or not seeking routine care and preventative care as well as care for their children, who may be documented, is going to put those families in jeopardy of deportation,” Mountain says.
In a recent Migrant Clinicians survey, two-thirds of the clinics that responded said their immigrant patients have been reluctant to seek health care.
“What we heard was a real significant uptick in the no-show rates. Parents are unwilling to take their kids to the doctor because even though the children may be documented, the parent may not be,” she says. “And they’re also concerned about buying insurance for their kids because that would necessitate them specifying where they live and being able to have their economics tagged.”
Some clinics from the survey report their patients are worried about providing personal information – wary of where it would go and how it might be used against them. Some are also trying to save money in case loved ones are detained. Mountain said opting out of doctor’s visits, though, can be harmful.
“We are looking at immunizations for infectious disease, delaying or preventing very costly care at the end stage of diabetes or hypertension, multiple hospitalizations for children with asthma because they are in poor control because their parents are afraid to bring them into care,” she says.