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June 24, 2019

Mitigating the Health Consequences for Youth in Families Affected by Immigration Policy Changes: Opportunities for Health Care Professionals and Health Systems

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle
  • 2Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, Washington
  • 3Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Seattle, Washington
  • 4School of Law, University of Washington, Seattle
JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(8):721-723. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1469

There are an estimated 18 million children in the United States with at least 1 immigrant parent, and 4.5 million children are citizens in families with mixed immigration status in which at least 1 family member is undocumented.1 Immigration status is a social determinant of health.2 The immigration status of parents poses an additional risk for child health, because children with a parent who is undocumented are at increased risk for developmental delay,3 housing instability,3 and limited access to social and health services4 compared with children in low-income families with parents who are documented. Sociopolitical stress associated with immigration policy changes at the local, state, and national level can heighten the stress of undocumented immigration status on families4 because of concerns about the elevated risk for deportation. One notable stressor was the recent presidential election, in which immigration policy was discussed in ways that heightened fears of deportation for immigrant communities; to our knowledge, the study by Eskenazi et al5 is the first to describe the health status of children born in the United States in immigrant families before and after the 2016 presidential election. A combination of increased enforcement, attempts to scale back temporary protections for noncitizens, and barriers to legal migration that have characterized the first years of the Trump Administration contribute to the climate of heightened fear of deportation.6