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   United States of America is home to the largest number of illegal immigrants in the world. The illegal immigrant population of the United States in 2008 was estimated by the Center for Immigration Studies to be about 11 million people, mostly from Mexico, India, China, Philippines and South American counties (Preston 2008). The biggest incentive for the immigrants to migrate to America is the economic incentive. International polls by the Gallup organization have found that more than 165 million adults in 148 foreign countries would, if they could, move to the US, which is the most desired destination for migrants (Clifton 2010). The government of the United State of America has stepped up to reduce the population of foreign aliens in America. From passing the bills in Congress against illegal immigrants to increase border patrolling, the government has doing a lot to stop illegal immigrants from trespassing into America. These policies have quite an adverse effect on the lives of millions of illegal immigrants; especially the health issues have been increased. The isolation of these immigrants from the health coverage and the lack of access to health care services have deteriorated the health of undocumented immigrants. Particularly, the female immigrants have become the biggest target of these policies. In short, structural violence is perpetrated against the illegal migrant because of their illegal status in the world’s biggest democratic country.

            In order to grasp the deeper picture of the immigrants in America, we must look into the history of immigration in America. The immigrants in America have a long history. What America is today is because of the immigrants. Since the discovery of the Americas in 15th century by Christopher Columbus many immigrants of different nationalities have settled in America. American immigration history can be viewed in four epochs: the colonial period, the mid-nineteenth century, the turn of the twentieth, and post-1965. Each period brought distinct national groups, races, and ethnicities to the United States. The first of all were Dutch, English and Spanish settlers who came to seek their fortune in a new country which was thought to have unlimited resources. Many new settlements were founded by these arrivals. The Swedes and French followed them. After the independence of the United States of America in 1776, many immigrants were imported to America as slaves because cheap labor was necessary for the rapid industrialization of the country. The mid-nineteenth century saw mainly an influx from northern Europe; the early twentieth-century mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe; post-1965 mostly from Latin America and Asia. Slowly and steadily they all were incorporated in to the American family. As Hasia Diner, a professor of history at New York University, explains,”Tens of millions of immigrants over four centuries have made the United States what it is today. They came to make new lives and livelihoods in the New World; their hard work benefited themselves and their new home country” (2008).
                             I will use different anthropological theories to frame my analysis of the data. The main theory I will use is ‘Critical Medical Anthropology’. Critical Medical Anthropology is a theoretical approach within medical anthropology that focuses on the political economy of the health and health care (Singer 2004). It examines the influence of government policies and the economic system of a country on the health of the general population. It puts emphasis on culture histories, rather than purely biomedical and social explanations of analyzing health and applies critical theory in the consideration of the political economy of health, and the effect of social inequality on people's health. I this paper I will examine the affect of US policies on the health of illegal immigrants. The worsened health situation of illegal aliens because of their exclusion from health care services, low wages, poor working and living conditions and their lower socio economic conditions can mainly be attributed to the actions and policies of the government. Moreover, the paper will analyze the sufferings and agonies of illegal immigrant women from the feminist perspective. Drawing arguments from feminist theories I will look into some issues of female illegal immigrants.
                                  Many bills have been passed in recent years by both the state and federal governments to decrease the population of illegal immigrants and stop them from trespassing into America. The proponents of the bills have welcomed these steps taken by the government while some have criticized these bills by calling them unconstitutional and racist decisions by the policy makers.  In such an act, the then government of the State of California passed a bill, Proposition 187, in 1994, which was called “Save Our State” by its proponents, in which the government eliminated all public services including health, education and other welfare schemes for undocumented immigrants (Balin 2008). The advocates of this bill assert that the money spent on the education, health care system and overall welfare of illegal immigrants put a lot of burden on the state treasury and while in the period of recession it is necessary to take such steps. Though Proposition 187 didn’t last for a long period but it encouraged and motivated other state governments to take such bold steps. Following the steps of Californian state government, the government of Arizona has recently passed a bill which is even more extreme from the one passed by the Californian government. The bill gives power to the police to demand proof of citizenship upon a lawful stop, detention or arrest (Archibold 2010). Though these policies could be an effective way to force the illegal immigrants to leave the country but it also has drastic effects on both the immigrants and the citizens of America.
                                        The most affected social group by America’s policies on illegal immigrants is the women immigrants. The exclusion of illegal immigrants from using public health services has greatly affected the health of women aliens. Women need the health care services more than the men do. The number of women immigrants in America has been increasing and it is estimated that about 3.2 million illegal immigrant women reside in America, who are marginalized and living in an extreme poverty and shabby conditions (Casey 2004). These women come to the new land to seek opportunities for their families, to improve their lives and the lives of their current or future children.   They are exposed to vastly different and dangerous scenarios because of their sex. They are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment at workplace. They are exploited because of their illegal status and are forced to work on low wages. Miriam Yeung of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights (NCIWR), who is an active advocator of the alien women, says, "Despite their contributions to our economy, these immigrants live at the margins of U.S. society -- subsisting on poverty wages, enduring humiliation and exploitation in the workplace, and living in constant fear that their families will be shattered if they are detected,"(“Immigrant Rights”). Language and cultural barriers have made it more difficult for them to seek health care services. These hapless women could barely speak English which have added more miseries to their already challenging lives. According to a report patients who face such barriers are less likely than others to have a usual source of medical care; they receive preventive services at reduced rates; and they have an increased risk of nonadherence to medication. They are also more likely to leave the hospital against medical advice (Flores 2006). Moreover, most of the illegal immigrant women do not seek any help from the legal authorities or report any crime perpetrated against them because of the fear of deportation. Silvia Henriquez, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, tells a story of Juana Villegas, an illegal immigrant, who was dishonored and treated harshly by the police officers,

“Just two years ago Juana Villegas was arrested for a routine traffic
violation in Nashville after leaving a clinic for a pre-natal visit and
detained when she was unable to produce a license. Despite the fact
that driving without a license is a misdemeanor in Tennessee that
generally leads to a citation, Ms. Villegas was taken into custody due
to suspicions about her immigration status. Ms. Villegas was jailed for
six days, during which time she gave birth to a little boy while shackled
to a bed under the watchful eye of the sheriff’s officer. Barred from
speaking to her husband, her baby was taken from her upon birth,
leading to a number of health repercussions for both mother and baby.
Local police stood by their actions, calling Nashville “a friendly and open
city to illegal residents.” In a chilling display of Nashville’s
“friendliness,” local police also confiscated Villegas’ breast pump.(Henriquez 2010)”
                        Another problem that illegal immigrant women face in America is giving birth to babies in American hospitals. Due to the medicalization of women health by biomedicine in today’s world, giving birth to babies in hospitals is viewed necessary. Though according to American immigration policies, emergency health services including delivering babies can be availed by the undocumented immigrants, yet the alien women face severe situations during their pregnancy and labor. The only coverage by the state that is available for an undocumented alien pregnant woman is the cost of delivery. The medicines and other health services required by these pregnant women have to be covered by themselves. Due to their poor socio economic status, it is very hard for these women to bear the cost of the expensive health services and medicine. Lack of access to adequate health services after childbirth leaves both child and mother in worsened health conditions.
                       The illegal men and women immigrants are not the only one that is being suffered by the US immigration policies. The children born to parents whom citizenship status is illegal also share the ordeal for a long time.  There are about 363,000 children born to illegal aliens each year (Cohen, Jeffery and Passel 2009). There are two kinds of immigrant children in America: those who are born to parents who have illegal status in the country and those who are brought to the country illegally or unaccompanied. Moreover, every year more than 8,000 unaccompanied illegal immigrant children arrive in America. These children come to America to seek protection, freedom and safety from the indignities of abuse, mistreatment, torture and even human trafficking that they have been forced to endure. According to a study by researchers, children whose parents are illegal immigrants or who lack legal status themselves face uniformly negative effects on their social development from early childhood until they become adults. Many illegal immigrant parents work long hours in low-wage jobs, sometimes more than one job. They live mostly from hand to mouth. Given that the medical treatments are quite expensive in America and most of them are uninsured, consequently their children do not get proper health care. On the other hand, America itself could suffer from its own current policies. Anchor babies, a term given to the children born to illegal aliens in America, automatically acquire US citizenship. These children are the future of America.
                      A question remains unanswered that whether the American government actions and crackdown against illegal immigrants are justifiable. Are they really a threat to the US economy? The issue of whether illegal immigrants are beneficial for the economy of the United States of America or a burden on the country’s economy is debatable. Many contemporary economists have focused on the negative economic effects illegal immigration have on the labor market. These critics have argued that significant numbers of illegal immigrants harm the economy by displacing low-skilled natives, depressing wages and neutralizing market pressures that would otherwise result in a rising trend in wages (Djacic 1997). American workers and politicians have adopted this line of reasoning in calling for stricter immigration controls to protect US jobs and the wage structure. On the other hand, many economists are in the favor of the presence of illegal immigrants in America. They take help from classical economics which hold that immigration benefits the host country because it subsidizes the labor supply (Nadadur 2009). In other words, the sending country bears the costs of raising a worker to the age when s/he is ready to enter the labor market. . As a result, the sending country pays for the labor productivity of the receiving country. According to this argument, immigrants also positively benefit the economy by increasing demand, spurring investment, and keeping receiving-country industries competitive through enhancing capital productivity (Borjas 1994). Scholars have also argued that illegal immigrants perform jobs that no US worker will be willing to do; as a result, these scholars hold that reducing the illegal immigrant population would be devastating to the US economy (Lerman and Schmidt 1999). Illegal immigrants also positively contribute to the US economy as consumers in the market. It is estimated that 90 per cent of the wages that the undocumented population earns are currently spent inside the US (Hinojosa 2005). As a result, he holds that the total consumptive capacity of illegal immigrants remaining in the US is around $450 billion (Cater et al. 2005). Therefore one can infer that the presence of illegal immigrants in America is beneficial for the country because they have a significant and positive impact on the US economy.
                          The exclusion of illegal immigrants from getting the public health services have also made American citizens vulnerable to many contagious diseases. The diseases which had been eradicated from America long ago like tuberculosis, leprosy, polio, dengue fever etc are again appearing on the soil of America. In 1995, there was an outbreak of Tuberculosis in an Alexandria high school, when 36 high-school students caught the disease from a foreign student (Washington Post 1995). In another such case  Typhoid struck Silver Spring, Maryland, when an immigrant from the Third World, who had been working in food service in the United States for almost two years, transmitted the bacteria through food at the McDonald’s where she worked (“Influxof Exotic Diseases” 1992). These cases and many others like these can be attributed to the worsened health conditions and infrastructure provided to the illegal immigrants by the host country. Moreover, many stereotypes have been attached to the illegal immigrants regarding the spread of contagious diseases by them. In fact, immigrants have often played the role of scapegoat in the American history. Tuberculosis is found in the one third of the world’s population mainly in the places where abject poverty and deprivation is found. Tuberculosis is a disease that has been called “the first penalty that capitalistic society had to pay for the ruthless exploitation of labor (Dubos and Dubos 1996:207).” Mary Douglas (1966, 1992) argues that societies erect barriers around the dominant group in order to keep polluting forces outside; in order to cope with the loss of control presented by communicable disease, particular ideas are often ascribed to groups regarding their increased susceptibility. As a result, “people faced with the threat of an illness . . . can deny their vulnerability by finding others to construct as its fitting targets” (Joffe and Haarhoff 2002). So the argument that illegal aliens bring contagious diseases with themselves is not quite true. The deprivation, marginalized status, poor working and living conditions and limited access to health care of the illegal population are the factors that make them an easy target for the contagious diseases. As Dr. Laurence Nickey, director of the El Paso heath district, explains,
                       “Contagious diseases that are generally considered to have been controlled
                        In the United States are readily evident along the border. The incidence of
                        tuberculosis in El Paso County is twice that of the U.S. rate. People have
                        come to the border for economic opportunities, but the necessary sewage
                        treatment facilities, public water systems, environmental enforcement,
                         and medical care have not been made available to them, causing a severe
                        risk to health and well being of people on both sides of the border”(1991)
                         Media is sometimes attributed as the fourth pillar of the state by contemporary political analysts. It can be vital in shaping people’s opinion and sometimes the whole political scenario is driven by media. Freedom of press has literally granted absolute power to media and exactly because of this reason it is acting as a channel for higher authorities to articulate and gain legitimacy for their actions. Much of the American public understanding about illegal immigrants is shaped by the media. After 9/11, anti sentiments among Americans have grown drastically towards the illegal immigrants (Ghazali 2008). These anti sentiments could be attributed to the country’s increasing unemployment rate, security issues or overall shrinkage of economy but it is the media that delivers these issues in such a way that manipulates the minds of American citizens. As a democratic country, these views and opinions in return effect the government policies on illegal immigration. A survey research shows that individuals watching FOX news or CNN, a conservative news channels that favor the anti immigration bills, are 9 percent more biased towards the illegal immigrants than the individuals watching CBS, a somewhat liberal news channel than FOX news and CNN (Fryberg et al 2011). If a news channel portray illegal immigrants as a threat to the economy and internal security then Americans are more likely to endorse negative attitudes toward illegal aliens and to support policies that seek to exclude them from American society. By choosing a quote by politicians that links illegal immigration to drug cartels, violence, and crime, the media frames immigration as a threat to the safety and security of the American public. As the key contemporary analyst explains,” The US media has hindered effective policy making on immigration for decades, and their impact has been increasing in recent years” (Suro 2008).  
                       In the end, it is not clear that whether the illegal immigrants are a burden or beneficial for America’s economy. But it is quite clear that what the politicians and the media depict about the illegal aliens is not completely true. They have created certain myths which have increased anti sentiments against immigrants among Americans and which the social scientists have rejected. Although illegal immigrants are net cost to the federal budget but their presence in America is very necessary for the country’s economy. They are the driving wheel behind the country’s economy. Moreover, most of them are uninsured and only eligible for the emergency health services; therefore they are not a burden on the health budget. Despite of their illegal status, they pay taxes to the state in form of sales tax. The facts illustrate that undocumented workers contribute more to the revenue stream for US social benefits than they use. In Texas, for example, nearly seven percent of the state’s population was comprised of undocumented immigrants in 2005. The state’s health care costs for undocumented immigrants that same year were a mere $58 million. Yet state revenues collected from undocumented immigrants exceeded what the state spent on social services provided to these immigrants such as health care and education by $424.7 million (“Undocumented Immigrants” 2006). Furthermore, a research by New York City department of health and hygiene conducted in New York has rejected the general perception that these immigrants are the main cause of spreading the contagious diseases (“The Health of Illegal immigrants” 2006). It concluded that in New York City immigrants upon arrival have similar or lower death rates from the 10 leading causes of death in the city compared to US born adults. Thus, when immigrants arrive in the US they are more likely to be healthier than native born individuals, yet as time goes on, their health deteriorates. All these misconceptions and stereotypes about illegal immigrants should be cleared out. The government and media have to play a major role in it. Even if they have done something against the American laws and entered the country illegally, this shouldn’t be an excuse to treat them badly and to take advantage of them because if nothing more, at least they are human beings.
                           For decades immigrants have come to the United States of America to seek a better life for them in this new land and to pursue the American dream. They have come to seek a life that they could never have within the borders of their poverty stricken countries. Today illegal immigrants in America find themselves in a very appalling situation. They are exploited, victimized, abused and looked down upon just because of their illegal status in the country. They have been denied the basic human rights. The denial of access to public health services to illegal immigrants shows that despite of being the world’s largest democratic country, a large number of its population are living in an abject poverty and misery. They are the victims of structural violence. The United States government’s policies against illegal immigrants are a major setback in its efforts to eliminate racism in America. To conclude I would say that a nation can’t go any further if it keeps a large number of its population depressed, distressed, marginalized, unhealthy and unhappy.

Written By: Jawad Karim

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