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The influx of immigrants into America and other European countries has been on the rise and has presented a raging debate on a range of topics in these countries, top among these being the health challenges presented by immigrant families. One might wonder what would drive an individual to abandon his family and friends, childhood memories and native culture and choose to start life afresh in a foreign land, miles away from his roots. Top of their agenda is to gain better employment in developed countries as they have more opportunities for growth. The biting poverty in their native lands drives them to unimaginable heights in a bid to cross over to the developed countries. Armed conflicts and civil wars have also been cited as one of the major reasons that cause them to seek citizenship in relatively peaceful countries. So intense is their desire that these immigrants would risk anything just so as to escape the harsh economic realities in their native lands, a case in point being the more than 300 Africans who perished in the Mediterranean waters when trying to cross over to Europe (Kullgren, 2003). Those who manage to cross over to their destinations seek new citizenship and establish their families in the new lands, with new cultures and lifestyles. In the United States, 1 in every 5 children is an immigrant. 80 percent of these children are US citizens and 53 percent of these children are brought up in families that are of mixed citizenship. The current immigrant population in the United States stands at 11 million and is expected to grow with time. This immigrant population has caused strains within the US health care system with the resulting effect being native citizens crying foul that they do not receive adequate health care as a result of the congestion caused by the immigrants (Milanovic, 2013). This state of affairs posits the question; do the influx of immigrants and the strained state of health care pose an ethical dilemma within the medical fraternity?

Research has shown that immigrants have numerous health challenges ranging from lack of medical insurance schemes, lack of access to emergency facilities and low incomes to cater for their medical bills. Mortality research has further shown that the longer the period of time immigrants live in the United States, the worse their diabetes, high blood pressure and rates of heart disease become. While the children of these immigrant families might have more money, their successive life spans over generations will keep diminishing. There is a widely held perception that migrating to developed countries will improve one’s standards of living. This might however not be the case with their health status. According to Milanovic (2013), a social demographer at the University of Texas, the lifestyle in the United States might not be conducive to immigrants. These immigrants quickly adopt the American eating habits and lifestyles-drinking, fast foods and smoking- which negatively affect their health status (Tavernise, 2014). These emerging health problems for immigrant families present a complication to the already difficult health debacle that immigrants find themselves entangled in. Some pieces of legislation greatly restrict the extent of services offered to undocumented immigrants. PRWORA, for instance, imposes restrictions on services offered to immigrants that are funded by federal, state or local coffers. These limitations pose ethical problems to many public health institutions tasked with the responsibility of restringing health to humanity, regardless of their immigrant status.

Luis, an immigrant from Guatemala, was involved in a car accident that left him with severe brain damage that necessitated him to stay in the hospital for more than two years. Within that period, his medical bill had rose close to $1 million. Though he was in a stable condition to be discharged, an impasse arose between the hospital and the patient’s advocates over the settlement of the outstanding bills. Luis is penniless and has no medical insurance. The hospital intends to send him back to his native country for any further medical care that might be necessary. His advocates on the other hand demand that the patient should remain in the hospital until a suitable place in the United States or Guatemala can be found that can adequately take care of his needs. This impasse presents a medical dilemma over the state of immigrants as to who is responsible for providing for their extensive medical needs when they do not have the means to cover for their medical costs. Federal laws stipulate that hospitals should provide emergency services to critically ill or severely injured patients regardless of their immigrant status (Kullgren, 2003).

It is true that immigrants are highly likely to default in clearing their medical bills. This can partly be explained by their inability to access medical insurance and their low levels of income, as a vast majority of them work on contractual basis. They are also perceived by the natives as the cause of their unemployment, presenting competition in a flooded market where jobs are scarce. Whatever the case might be, it is important that the health issues faced by immigrants and their families should be addressed, failure to which can lead to negative consequences.  

References

Kullgren, J. (2003). Restrictions on Undocumented Immigrants’ Access to Health Services: The Public Health Implications of Welfare Reform. American Journal Of Public Health, 93(10), 1630. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448024/

Milanovic, B. (2013). The Economic Causes of Migration – The Globalist. The Globalist. Retrieved 8 August 2016, from http://www.theglobalist.com/economic-causes-migration/

Tavernise, S. (2014). The Health Toll of Immigration. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 8 August 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/health/the-health-toll-of-immigration.html

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