At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health we encourage our Latinx community — many of whom are immigrants — to embrace their power and fight for access to health care in their communities. But for many of the people we work with, fulfilling their basic human right to health care is not easy. The Trump administration seemingly tries every opportunity to scapegoat, brutalize and instill fear in our immigrant communities — the challenge to access health care is greater than ever.
Fear of raids from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and family separation policies has a chilling effect in many immigrant communities. Many immigrants are avoiding reproductive health care for fear of deportation. This is especially concerning because for many women with low incomes who rely on family planning programs such as Title X, their OB-GYN appointments are their only regular visit to the doctor and an entry point for a range of preventative care from checking blood pressure levels to screening for breast and cervical cancer.
Sadly, their fears are based on lived experiences. Take the case of Blanca Borrego. In 2015, Blanca, an undocumented immigrant and mother of three, was arrested in her gynecologist’s office. Blanca went to her doctor for a cyst that caused her abdominal pain. She left in handcuffs, facing the risk of being deported.
In states like Texas, we have seen an increase in ICE officers at clinics and hospitals. Our activists have received calls, heard stories and spoken with people in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas who are afraid to attend their medical appointments due to the presence of Border Patrol along their route to the doctor and who see ICE parked outside of their health clinics.
Pregnant people who are worried about deportation are also skipping out on prenatal appointments and many are waiting until they are in labor to go to the doctor. As a result, life-threatening conditions such as preeclampsia are not being diagnosed until patients experience seizures.
The fear of deportation and a rise in hate crimes is also taking an emotional and physical toll on immigrants’ stress levels. A recent study using data from the Centers for Disease Control linked the election of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSharpton: Trump has ‘particular venom’ for blacks, people of color Trump signs 9/11 compensation fund bill alongside first responders Trump continues assault on Fed: It ‘has made all of the wrong moves’ MORE to more preterm births from Latina women. This was above the levels of preterm births that would have been expected had the election not occurred.
Preterm birth in particular is linked with maternal stress. One pediatric study of nearly 400 adolescents with at least one immigrant parent found increased blood pressure and problems sleeping. A paper published last year in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found a correlation between deportation worries and higher blood pressure among Latina women.
Some undocumented immigrants are cancelling or not showing up to abortion appointments because of deportation fears.
This is especially true in states like Texas and New Mexico where threats of mass ICE raids continue to terrorize communities and make it difficult for people to travel long distances through ICE check points. Abortion restrictions in states like Texas already made accessing an abortion a difficult task with some communities lacking an abortion clinic within 300 miles. Now many undocumented immigrants are delaying abortion appointments, which can mean that the eventual price of the procedure will be even higher than expected.
The stress and burden we are placing on immigrant communities is not only cruel and unjust, but it doesn’t serve anyone’s interests. It doesn’t serve any of us to have communities that are living in a constant state of fear and stress. It doesn’t serve any of us to have health care costs rising as more people turn to emergency care as a desperate last resort.
That is why now more than ever we need our fellow reproductive health champions to understand that immigrant justice is reproductive justice. We cannot divorce the conversations we have about maternal health and abortion access from what is happening at our border. We need to integrate an immigrant lens to these intersecting issues. We must stand up for those who are being terrorized and say enough is enough. Our communities deserve to live without fear and with dignity and justice.
Jessica González-Rojas is the executive director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.