A new immigration policy proposed by President Donald Trump on Sept. 22 could have significant negative effects on the health of the country’s large population of children of immigrants, according to some doctors.
According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately one-fourth of children living in the U.S. have at least one immigrant parent, and these children are spread across every region of the country — from rural areas to big cities. Trump’s proposed policy would allow the federal government to deny green cards to immigrants who have entered the U.S. legally and hold visas should they choose to take advantage of certain public assistance benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps, and housing subsidies. (Visas allow immigrants to live in the U.S. for a designated period of time, while green cards grant immigrants permanent residence in the U.S.)
Since the 1990s, only immigrants who receive cash-based welfare through programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income have been at risk for being denied a green card. Trump’s proposal, however, would significantly broaden the criteria for those who can be labeled as a financial burden to the government and therefore become ineligible to receive a green card.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary KirstjenNielsen said that the change is meant to encourage immigrants to be more self-reliant and protect limited government resources. Numerous doctors have been highly critical of Trump’s proposal, arguing that it will jeopardize the health of U.S. children because it will dissuade immigrants from seeking out healthcare.
If immigrants do not obtain the healthcare services they need, the health and well-being of all school-age children may suffer, experts say. One example of this, according to education experts Ajay Chaudry and Hirokazu Yoshikawa, could be increased food insecurity as families stop taking advantage of food stamps, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP has been proven to significantly reduce rates of food insecurity and poverty among children, according to two national studies.
Medical experts have also expressed concern that if families are afraid to seek medical care, the policy could lead to the spread of contagious diseases, which is especially concerning as the country enters flu season. On Oct. 8, the California Academy of Family Physicians issued a press release stating that “disease and illness do not discriminate based on immigration status.” A coalition of other healthcare practitioners have also spoken out against the policy, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
In the long term, medical experts from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predict that the change could have adverse effects on rates of infant mortality, obesity, heart disease, and even high school completion.
If approved, the rule wouldn’t go into effect until 2019. However, Kelly Whitener, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families who specializes in pediatric healthcare, told ABC News that many immigrants have already begun opting out of federal assistance programs they’re eligible for. This is because they are afraid that their participation will jeopardize their ability to get a green card, she said.
In light of this development, K-12 teachers and administrators may want to be especially mindful of the impact that insufficient nourishment and inadequate healthcare can have on students’ ability to retain information and adhere to behavioral expectations. In addition, administrators may want to encourage all community members to be proactive about scheduling regular checkups and getting vaccines and flu shots.
Most importantly, education professors Emily R. Crawford and Lisa M. Dorner recommend educators stay abreast of the health challenges faced by all students as a result of the White House’s proposal. Simply being aware of stressors that students may be experiencing outside of the classroom can help teachers exercise patience and compassion, de-escalate potential conflicts if they arise, and create a safe, welcoming learning environment.