Population Care

Refugees, detained immigrants deserve access to quality care

Robert Nagler Miller , Contributing News Writer

Clearing a path through a thicket of immigration issues—many of which have become highly charged and politicized over the last couple of years—delegates to the 2017 AMA Annual Meeting adopted a series of resolutions that affirmed the organization’s commitment to patients’ health and well-being, irrespective of their immigration status.

They also voted to support a ban on immigration or other law-enforcement officials’ use of information contained in patient medical records as part of immigration enforcement actions against people living in the U.S. illegally.

Reference-committee testimony was heavily in favor of barring access to patient records for immigration enforcement. Several delegates offered emotional accounts about the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship. They touted physicians’ duty to protect the health of all of their patients and called for continued opposition to any practice that could jeopardize the safety and well-being of their patients living here illegally.

“Today’s policy from the AMA comes in response to continuing challenges posed to physicians and their patients by immigration enforcement actions that place the safety and well-being of immigrant patients in jeopardy,” AMA President Andrew W. Gurman, MD, said in a statement. “The new policy reinforces the AMA’s long-established opposition to any federal legislation requiring physicians to establish the immigration status of their patients or collect and report data regarding an individual patient’s legal resident status.”

The HOD took several other actions touching on the health and well-being of refugee patients and patients held in immigration detention facilities.

One such action focuses on supporting programs to promote education about available low-cost health care plans to refugees. This policy is part of AMA delegates’ efforts to increase access to health care for immigrants, who are at higher risk for chronic health and mental health conditions.

“The millions of refugees who have sought shelter in the United States need greater availability and access to health care insurance as these groups are typically at a higher risk for chronic conditions,” said Dr. Gurman. “The medical profession’s response to disease is supported by minimizing gaps in health care and ensuring that all patients in need can access medical treatment, regardless of legal status.”

Subpar care in detention facilities

Delegates also adopted policies that recognize the negative health consequences for women and children in family immigration detention facilities and calls for a halt to the expansion of such centers. In addition, they adopted policy opposing the separation of parents from children who are detained while seeking safe haven and advocated for access to care for women and children in immigration detention. 

Speaking in support of adoption of this resolution, some delegates stated in reference committee testimony that many people who seek safe harbor in the U.S. have already had traumatizing experiences, and that the detention facilities in which they are housed only serve to retraumatize them.

A similar argument was made in the adoption of a resolution to support the mental and physical health of minor children in deportation proceedings against their parents who are in the U.S. illegally.

“The separation of children from their parents who are detained while seeking safe haven causes unnecessary distress, depression and anxiety,” Dr. Gurman said. “The vast majority of detained families are ultimately released, but the physical and psychological distress of detention can continue, particularly for children.”

Finally, delegates called for federal immigration officials to ensure that standards of health and mental health services for immigrants in detention meet National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards. The AMA will also urge the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Detention Oversight should also track complaints related to poor health care quality. The HOD adopted policy in favor of health care access for people in immigration detention.

“Data demonstrates that substandard medical care in immigrant detention facilities has led to preventable deaths, yet deficient inspections by ICE Office of Detention Oversight allow these issues to go unresolved,” said Dr. Gurman. “The AMA will take necessary steps to urge that immigrant detention facilities achieve full compliance with the meaningful standards set by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.”

Read more news coverage from the 2017 AMA Annual Meeting.