Skip to Main Content

As President Trump continues to step up immigration enforcement, medical centers say the changes are indeed keeping immigrants out — of hospitals and clinics.

The deportation guidelines, first outlined in an executive order on Jan. 25, took more concrete form this week with a pair of memos from the Department of Homeland Security.


The executive order broadly expanded the categories of people targeted for deportation. Previously, agents were directed to focus on convicted criminals; individuals who were merely in the United States illegally were not prioritized for deportation. The executive order scrapped that policy.

Medical centers have traditionally been considered “sensitive locations,” like schools and places of worship, where federal agents usually would not enter. But individual immigrants are still scared to go to the doctor.

“There’s just a lot of fear that ICE would raid our facility,” said Alex Armstrong, CEO of Alliance Medical Center, a community health center with a large Hispanic population north of Santa Rosa, Calif. He said that twice as many patients as normal canceled their appointments last week, some saying they were afraid of immigration officials. One man, who is a US citizen, missed an oncology appointment because his caretaker wouldn’t drive him, fearful of being stopped.


In Brooklyn, N.Y., rumors circulated last week that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were prowling the halls of the Kings County Hospital; while the rumors were false, a hospital spokesperson said that patients canceled appointments because of it.

Evidence that undocumented immigrants are avoiding clinics or hospitals because of the new guidelines is only anecdotal. But researchers have previously found that tightening of immigration policies have resulted in at least some increased fear in immigrant communities, with residents reluctant to leave their homes, go to the doctor, or take other actions they think might put themselves at risk.

In 2010, in the midst of an Arizona study on childhood obesity, which initially had nothing to do with immigration policy, the state legislature passed a bill expanding the authority of police officers to investigate individuals they suspected of being in the United States illegally — and the researchers noticed that people stopped showing up for medical care. (A later study also found that the passage of the bill was associated with less health care utilization.)

“Several providers described a drop in health maintenance, such as regular doctor visits, diabetes education, vaccines, prenatal care, HIV education, and procurement of medications, as the result of [the law],” the authors of the 2010 paper wrote.

It is unclear whether the recent spate of immigration raids is directly related to the executive order, the New York Times reported; Trump is claiming credit for fulfilling campaign promises, while DHS officials say it’s just business as usual.

At a clinic in Everett, Mass., Dr. Elisabeth Poorman, a primary care physician who sees mostly immigrant patients, said that fewer new patients are coming through the door — normally, she sees three or four a day, but in the past few weeks, there might only be one. And others are skipping follow-up appointments.

“On a day-to-day level, I have people who need to be on Coumadin and aren’t coming in,” Poorman said. “I have people who have diabetes, who need insulin, who aren’t getting it. I have people who had bad asthma and are too afraid to apply for insurance, so they’ll stay out for a while, but they’re going to get sicker and end up in the hospitals.”

“I think the implications of what’s going on right now are going to be felt by the health community for decades to come,” Poorman said.

  • The country of citizenship of those in the USA ILLEGALLY should pay for any health care their citizens receive in the USA. Barring that, or refusal of payment for transportation of the ILLEGAL immigrants in the USA back to their country of citizenship, let their medical conditions run their course.

    If a US citizen becomes sick in a foreign country, he is treated FOR PAYMENT.

  • so much for being a ‘Christian nation’ or asking WWJD? Caring for the sick, being kind and showing some humanity to others is about being a decent human being. Give it a try, you might find it helpful to your own well being.

    • PEGGY KEATING said, “so much for being a ‘Christian nation’ or asking WWJD? Caring for the sick…”

      If this were a Christian nation, which it is NOT, America would STRICTLY ADHERE to the admonishments for the sick in the Bible at James 5:14, which are:
      ““Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:”

      I think several large jugs of veggie oil would suffice, don’t you PEGGY KEATING, that is before they died of their ‘sickness,’ despite all the prayers and incantations.

  • The majority of these immigrants are hard working, law abiding people, just trying to have a decent life. To express hate for all immigrants, and to assume they are all criminals is just plain ignorant and unkind.

Comments are closed.