Improving Health for Undocumented Immigrants

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Improving Health for Undocumented Immigrants


A Gathering of influencers for services for undocumented immigrants for Health Technology Forum, article by Garrett Stephens

This article provides a look into 4 top organizations providing advocacy and support for health for undocumented immigrants. At HTFIC2017, The California Endowment hosted a panel that brought top minds from these organizations together to discuss the current state of health for undocumented immigrants and the challenges we face in improving health for this largely underserved community moving forward.

If you don’t know much about The California Endowment, you should follow the link above. They provide powerful and lasting initiatives for underserved communities in California.

California is home to millions of immigrants, both with and without benefit of legal immigration status; of all ages and often supporting or being supported by US citizen relatives. Naturally, all are at risk for illness and injury, but optimally self-sufficient when they are well. So coverage for health care makes sense from an economic as well as humanitarian perspective.

The Health4All campaign appeals for health care coverage for all Californians, including undocumented immigrants. Through a series of local and statewide policy measures driven by informed popular demand, California is managing to assure access to care and prevention services for nearly all residents of the state.

The consequence is healthier people, safer communities, and more prosperity than would happen otherwise. Opportunities exist for technology to facilitate the work of informing the public, strengthening policy advocacy, and improving social conditions to prevent disease and control costs.

Jonathan Tran, The California Endowment

Jonathan is a Program Director for the California Endowment. Jonathan facilitated this riveting discussion, giving the speakers questions about their strategies for achieving what they’d all set out to do: to improve health conditions for their undocumented peers.

Below, we’ll details each of the speakers and what they discussed.

Justino Mora, Undocumedia

Justino is the Co-Founder of Undocumedia. They focus on spreading its message and brand through social media. They have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram. They began this trend of posting pictures of young Latinos and Latinas. They noticed that with this trend, engagement goes up.

Another example: an article in December talked about expanding health for kids. 80% supported increasing support for providing healthcare to undocumented children, only 20% against it. Justino concludes that with the results of the election, we may assume that people might not want to take action, but we need to continue taking action.

He tells us about a time he posted a picture with the shirt saying “I’m undocumented.” He then received a bunch of threats to report him to ICE, so now he tags ICE on the posts. He doesn’t receive the messages anymore.

It is important to share stories that highlight the non-dreamer, parents, street vendors, those who are different than us, says Justino. We have the privilege of knowing English, but a lot of others in our communities don’t have that privilege.

“We have to show we can be inspiring and strong and let people know about their rights. A lot of people assume that just because we are undocumented, we don’t have rights, and that’s just not true. We try to make it very easy for them to read. Sometimes we joke around that we should have an honorary degree in immigration. We take that content, share it, and that content tends to be shared rapidly.”

Yosimar Reyes, Define American

Yosimar is an Arts Fellow at Define American. They are a media organization that creates content and showcases different views of the lives and approaches for undocumented immigrants. In the news you now see a 4.0 student jumping into top institutions, labor done by undocumented and improved communities, explains Yosimar. “We need to continue to shift the storytelling because we’ve been telling the wrong story for the last 10 years.” This happens when advocates create videos, media, mini-documentaries, plays, and produce events like the Define American Film Festival.

He explains that the conversation on immigration doesn’t look at older undocumented people who don’t have protection. After Trump won, the frustration of the fact that people were not paying attention became clear; it’s not a political issue, it’s a story of people’s dignity.

He asks: “How do we regain the trust of undocumented people to engage with us? How can we connect and relate to the issue? That’s why [we at Define American] do consulting for undocumented immigrants. Other organizations might not know or understand the way undocumented people would like to be represented.”

Another point Yosi finds important: “As an artist, we need to stop only having the images of us on the media be pictures of us crying. The media loves us crying. People think that because we’re undocumented, we need someone to speak for us, like a Democrat, but Obama deported more people than any other president.”

A narrative change will be a huge resource in assisting the undocumented. This is why organizations like Define American are largely instrumental in changing the story within our nation and beyond.

Erick Leyva, Pre-Health Dreamers

Erick is an Institutional Advocate for Pre-Health Dreamers. He explains that a focus at PHD is that between the ages of 19–26, there is a need to get healthcare for people. He grew up undocumented like Yosi. PHD wants to connect undocumented people with a community that is there for them.

He asks: How do we as a network of undocumented immigrants cultivate valuable skills that we can use in health professions? We want to have people understand that undocumented people are often stuck in deficiency thinking. “We can look to drive growth in empathy skills. In the mid 2000’s the story was the sad trauma story of being undocumented, but now young people are very active in their communities. We love to laugh. A lot of times we don’t show that, but as humans, we’re very versatile.”

During the panel, Erick explained that social media has been huge for them. “We’re creating promo videos for PHD, where we are able to share with the larger community, rather than being stuck in just patting ourselves on the shoulder. You have folks who are undocumented, but they don’t see themselves as these resilient folks, and we take away that resilience of our parents and grandparents who have gone through hell and back to get here. Creating online content is important for that.”

pic from UndocuMedia’s Instagram Page

This panel was lively and gave a lot of food for thought on continuing improvement for undocumented, underserved communities in the US. Social media will be a hugely important resource in reaching the attention of documented and undocumented citizens alike.

Changing the current and historic narrative of who undocumented immigrants are remains a key to changing the culture surrounding this group of people. As Yosi said, this issue is not political, it is an issue of human beings and the struggles they face.

If we can continue to foster programs and initiatives led by organizations like California Endowment, Pre-Health Dreamers, Define American and Undocumedia, we can safely say we’re at least on the right path.

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