Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Do States' Immigrant-Friendly Policies Improve the Health of Children of Immigrants?
The Impact of Driver's License Policies for Undocumented Immigrants and "Sanctuary" Policies on Access and Use of Health Care

Authors: Heather Koball and Seth Hartig
Publication Date: April 2020

This study examines the health impacts of local and state immigration-related policies that support undocumented immigrants and their families. The research question we sought to answer in this study was “Do sanctuary policies and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants increase the chances that children of these immigrants receive adequate medical and dental care?” We focused on access to preventive health care, including whether children in immigrant families (1) have a usual source of care (USC) provider, (2) have unmet medical needs, (3) visited the dentist in the past 6 months, or (4) had recent well-child visits.

Findings demonstrated that sanctuary policies and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants improved preventive health outcomes among children of immigrants. These policies were shown to increase the likelihood that children in immigrant households, especially Latino children, have a USC provider, and that they significantly reduce the likelihood that children in these households have unmet medical needs. The study also demonstrated that these policies significantly increase the likelihood that Latino children in immigrant households receive preventive dental care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that the health of individuals is interconnected and maintaining public health has far-reaching implications for not only the health of our country, but the economy as well. Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic shine a light on the importance of preventive health practices and access to health care. In the face of COVID-19, the time is now to take a closer look at how immigration policy impacts the health of all immigrants and, in turn, the health of our country.

This study provides evidence that supports claims of a “chilling effect” on immigrants’ access to and use of health care due to increased state participation in federal immigration enforcement. If immigrants are too scared to seek medical help, they may not receive the information and treatment they need to keep themselves, and thereby, their communities, healthy. Laws that limit federal immigration enforcement and increase access to driver’s licenses may assuage fear in the immigrant community and enhance their ability to access healthcare. It is vital now more than ever to understand how policies affect individuals’ abilities and willingness to seek medical care to protect their health and the health of their community.

Click the following title to read the brief: Immigrant-Friendly Policies Improve Children’s Health Outcomes

Click the following title to read the full report: Do States’ Immigrant-Friendly Policies Improve the Health of Children of Immigrants? The Impact of Driver’s License Policies for Undocumented Immigrants and “Sanctuary” Policies on Access and Use of Health Care