New Report Explores Link Between Immigrant-Friendly Policies and Health of Children of Immigrants

If the 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are afraid or unable to access preventative health care, medical needs will go unmet, impacting the health of families and, in turn, our country.

To help better understand the health impacts of local and state immigration-related policies, the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Bank Street Graduate School of Education released a new publication titled, “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.”

The report finds that immigrant-friendly state or local policies––such as permitting undocumented immigrants to secure driver’s licenses and limiting participation in federal immigration enforcement––improve preventative health outcomes among children of immigrants. Access to legal driver’s licenses increased the likelihood that children in immigrant households, especially Latino children, have a regular health care provider and receive preventative dental care. However, only 15 states and the District of Columbia allow driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, leaving many families unable or afraid to access health care.

“State policies are adapting to protect their immigrant communities in response to increased federal immigration enforcement in recent years,” says Heather Koball, Co-Director of NCCP and lead author on the report. “This analysis examines the impact of specific policies being considered and passed in many states to encourage sound, evidence-based policies that improve the health of immigrants and the community as a whole.”

To evaluate immigrant children’s health outcomes in the context of different states, the researchers created an original database of state-level immigration policies. This information was then merged with data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), which is completed by approximately 30,000 respondents annually on a range of demographic, economic, and health outcomes.

Generally, the policies were found to have reduced the likelihood that children of immigrants have unmet medical needs. These results are particularly significant given the wide variation in state responses to recent upswings in federal immigration enforcement, and also given the importance of access to health care during a pandemic like COVID-19.

“As the country and world continue to grapple with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, this publication is particularly important in understanding the importance of access to health care for immigrant populations,” Dr. Koball adds. “We hope this work will provide clarity on the health impacts of driver’s licenses and sanctuary policies to help inform immigration policy decisions at the state and local level.”

The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Read the full report and brief on NCCP’s website.