small boy wrapped around a woman's chest and shoulders

Creating Systems of Safety for Immigrant Health

Principal Investigator: Nancy Berlinger.

Funder: Open Society Foundations Public Health Program

Immigrants and their families in the United States and migrants who seek asylum in this country face accelerating threats and harms to their health because of the Trump administration’s immigration priorities. Policies of criminalization and detention, the dismantling of asylum systems, the chilling effects of immigration enforcement on the use of health-related programs, and the toxic effects of stress and fear are recognized as public health problems. These problems add to longstanding access problems due to lack of insurance and other factors.

Drawing on the values and strategies of public health epidemiology and patient safety, this project is exploring how health systems should counter these accelerating threats and harms. Participants include leading public health experts, lawyers, physicians, and social scientists from hospitals and clinics, direct service organizations, immigrant advocacy groups, research institutions, and local government. The project’s aim is to identify realistic actions that could be taken by hospitals, clinics, and public health systems to enable health professionals in the U.S. to respond effectively to threats and harms to the health of the immigrant populations they serve.

Project participants convened in October 2018 in New York City to:

  • Review known and emerging threats and harms to the health of immigrants and their families in the U.S. and to migrants seeking safe haven in the U.S.
  • Review new or scaled-up action in health care, legal services, advocacy, investigative journalism, and other domains to respond to problems, protect data, avoid duplication, and update strategies.
  • Apply lessons from public health epidemiology and patient safety to identify systems of safety in health settings, aligned with the values of health practitioners, that can support systemic approaches to immigrant health, including effective collaboration with other domains.
  • Outline next steps.

This project builds on the work of The Hastings Center’s longstanding Undocumented Patients Project. Planned future phases of work will refine and build consensus around systemic approaches by health professionals to counter threats and harms to immigrant health.