CHICAGO — The American Medical Association (AMA) today voted to adopt new policies aimed at improving and protecting the health of immigrants and refugees who have come to the United States. The new policies were approved by physicians from all corners of the nation as they gathered at AMA’s Annual Meeting to shape the health care positions of the nation’s largest physician organization.

Opposing detention of families seeking refuge in the U.S.

The AMA adopted policy today seeking to provide protections to families that have come to the United States as temporary refugees seeking safe-haven. Given the negative health consequences that detention has on both children and their parents, the AMA opposes family immigration detention, separation of children from their parents in detention, and any plans to expand these detention centers.

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

Given the unique health needs of detained families, and the importance of focusing on treatment of this vulnerable population, the AMA will advocate for access to health care for women and children in immigration detention.

Improving medical care in immigrant detention centers 

Physicians believe that detention centers used by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have failed to prevent human rights abuses and substandard living conditions, and they provide inconsistent access to quality medical care. In response, the AMA adopted policy today calling on detention oversight officials within ICE to revise medical standards governing the conditions of confinement at detention facilities to meet those set by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

“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.”

As ICE contracts with private detention centers where the majority of preventable deaths have occurred, the AMA will recommend that federal immigration enforcement refrain from partnerships with private facilities that do not meet the standards of medical care as set by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

Special consideration for American-born children of immigrant parents

The AMA today called for deportation proceedings to consider and support the mental and physical health of children born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents. These children are American citizens and the AMA believes their well-being should be taken into consideration when their undocumented parents may be detained or deported.

“The AMA believes separating American-citizen children of immigrants from their parents has a negative impact on children, undermines the stability of a family, and that deportation proceedings should recognize these consequences,” said Dr. Gurman. “These children usually end up in foster care, a devastating outcome and a burden on society.”

The AMA will work with local and state medical societies, and other relevant stakeholders, to address the importance of considering the health and welfare of American-citizen children in cases where the parents of those minors are in danger of detention or deportation.

Protecting medical record confidentiality for immigrant patients

The AMA today adopted policy supporting protections that prohibit immigration enforcement officials from using medical records as a potential source of actionable information on a patient’s immigration status.

“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 wellbeing of immigrant patients in jeopardy,” said Dr. Gurman. “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.”

Increasing access to health insurance for refugees in the U.S.

The American Medical Association (AMA) continued its efforts to address the unique health needs of refugees who have sought shelter in the United States by adopting policy to support a variety of programs that remove language barriers and promote education about low-cost health-care plans in order to minimize gaps in health care for the refugee population.

“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.”

Refugees are more likely to have barriers to accessing health care including linguistic and cultural challenges, unfamiliarity with health programs and the related application processes.

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The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care.  The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.