Immigration and Health in the News

By Andy Urban, PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota. IHRC Affiliated Faculty

A recent article in the Star Tribune “A freeze in the nursing pipeline? discusses how the pool of 50,000 special visas set aside for foreign nurses and their families has been fully utilized, and how the United States Congress will be considering whether to pass an act allotting additional visas of this sort. The primary recipients of these nursing visas are Filipina women, who take classes that are modeled on the education they would receive if they did their training in American schools, and then are recruited by American hospital and private care representatives abroad.

The article seems a bit bare in its analysis on a couple of accounts. It would be interesting if the author put this into context with the larger debate surrounding immigration; it is simply implied that these nurses are essential workers (perhaps because they ensure the health of the American population) and therefore they should be allowed to enter the country without impediment. While this is certainly true, why are the agricultural workers who harvest American crops not afforded a similar privilege? In addition, as the former University of Minnesota professor Cathy Choy illustrates in her book Empire of Care, the reason Filipina nurses have been such an integral part of the American healthcare system is because of the unique colonial relationship that existed between the United States and the Philippines. After the American government occupied the Philippines, one of its first measures was to send a cadre of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals there to teach the “uncivilized? Filipinos how to engage in proper health practices. This influx of American nursing schools in the Philippines eventually led to a surplus in nurses, who went to the United States to find work; a trend that has continued into the present.
On the theme of health, an article in the Los Angeles Times [“Immigrants' health assessed in Rand study?] addresses a recent report published by the Rand Corporation, which finds that the children of Asian immigrants are on the whole more healthy then the children of Latino immigrants. Although income disparities between the two groups in part accounts for this – affluent children, regardless of their race, exercise more, have better access to health care, and eat more healthy – he article notes that even when in comparable economic groups Asian Americans tended to have healthier habits then Latinos. What does this mean? To start, it means that racial categorizations play an important role in the way individuals’ health are measured by the government and by experts who produce knowledge in this field. The article (and perhaps the report as well), not surprisingly, does not mention children who come from mixed backgrounds and lumps Latinos and Asians all together, without making any distinction to nationality. Nonetheless, the report does show how race is a real social force in the sense that it impacts facets of social life like human health. If Latinos for example, have fewer opportunities than whites to find work that offers benefits, their race can indirectly inform life expectancy and other elements of their well-being.
Finally, addressing health in a less abstract sense, an article from CNN.com [“Driver guilty in deadly human smuggling case?] covers the recent guilty verdict against Tyrone Williams, the driver of the truck in which 19 undocumented immigrants suffocated to death in the truck’s trailer while being smuggled into the United States in May 2003. Although Williams deserves to be punished for his role in this – and he certainly will as an individual scapegoat – doesn’t this tragedy speak to a larger collective guilt over the way the border is currently policed? Human smuggling is an extremely dangerous business for the same reason that many people die each year selling drugs. Its illegality makes it profitable.

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Andy Urban is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the IHRC Advisory Council. His research focuses on Irish and Chinese domestic servants in the late-nineteenth century United States.
Contact Information: urba0090@umn.edu

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This page contains a single entry by Sylvie Thao published on December 11, 2006 10:32 AM.

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