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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UCLA Researchers Investigating How Public Policies Affect Whether Immigrants Seek Healthcare

The debate about how to address immigration in the United States may be at full throttle, but researchers at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR) want to ensure the conversation is informed by data.

The researchers are currently seeking to understand how policies in California may affect how immigrants who are Asian and Latino — the largest immigrant groups in the state — access healthcare. Last September, the team, led by Dr. Steven Wallace, professor of community health sciences at the UCLA Jonathan and Karin Fielding School of Public Health (FSPH) and associate director of the CHPR, initiated the study with a 5-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Dr. Wallace, along with Dr. Maria-Elena De Trinidad Young, a research scientist at the center, recently shared insight gained from their work on immigrant health.

FSPH: Why were you interested in conducting this study?

Dr. Wallace: This research builds on work we’ve been doing together and collaborating with others on for several years. I’ve done work on immigrant health since 1978. When Maria Elena joined our doctoral program, we put together a report that looked at state and national policies that could affect immigrant health. Maria Elena had done a series of independent projects that were looking at outcomes of state policies on different health outcomes, and she also looked at data from the California Health Interview Survey [a statewide survey administered by FSPH’s UCLA Center for Health Policy Research]. That work sparked a conversation about what is the actual connection between immigration policies and health? There’s a moderate amount of literature around how, say, a law in Arizona terrifies the community and results in a drop in healthcare access,1 or how a year after a large raid at a meatpacking plant in Iowa by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) there is a spike in premature births for Latinos.2 There’s lots of correlational data but not a lot of information about actual experiences of immigrants and health outcomes.

FSPH: How are you are conducting the study?

Dr. Young: We are conducting a survey with 1,000 Asian and 1,000 Latino California Health Interview Survey respondents over the course of two years. We developed this 15-minute long survey, available in five languages, that asks immigrants about their experiences in the areas of healthcare, social services, labor and employment, law enforcement and education. We also ask the respondents their general perceptions of immigration in California: Do they feel discriminated against? Do they feel safe in their neighborhoods?

Additionally, we are in the process of conducting approximately 60 one-on-one interviews with Mexican and Chinese immigrants living in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The idea is to get a sense of the diversity of experiences of people living in the more inclusive counties in California and in the more exclusive counties. Los Angeles County, for example, provides health coverage to anyone regardless of citizenship status. Orange County has contracts with ICE and helps with the deportation of immigrants. Our hope is to hear the stories about how on a day-to-day basis interact with their workplaces, schools and communities, and how these experiences affect whether they seek healthcare when needed.

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