SINGH: Undocumented expecting mothers deserve proper care


Opinions Column: Here's to Your Health

Dr. Cristina Gamboa is an obstetrician at Salud Para La Gente, a community health center located in Watsonville, Calif. She, herself, was an immigrant from Mexico and now works to provide for other families much like her own. Being in the healthcare industry, she has noticed many patients suffering from high-risk pregnancies along with serious complications. High blood pressure during pregnancy is one of the leading factors in maternal death and can be caused through bodily changes, which are induced by stress.  

With California sharing a border with Mexico, Gamboa has seen an increase in stressed patients, especially pregnant Mexican immigrants. There are many elements prompting stress in the external environment that cause changes within the human body. Such factors may include but are not limited to trauma, occupation and employment status, relationships with others, poor working conditions, social inability, etc. Higher stress levels put expecting mothers at a higher risk of developing depression as well as anxiety, which may affect the child’s health. Gamboa’s center screens all expecting mothers for mood disorders and have noticed a clear trend within the group of recently immigrated mothers, finding that this particular group has a higher rate of mental disorders than the others. This is most likely due to the policies upheld by the administration governing our country. 

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it is illegal for immigrants to cross the border without being approved by an immigration officer. From the most recent data available, in 2014, there were approximately 2.35 to 2.6 million undocumented immigrants in California alone. Almost 1 in 10 people in California’s labor force is undocumented and nationally, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants. What brings immigrants to this country is along the same basis of what brought people here centuries ago before the United States first became a country. It is the hope of finding a land of opportunities, one where you can change your circumstances, whether it be socially, economically or otherwise. Many immigrants fled Mexico to escape violence and ongoing civil wars, attempting to find a new and safer life. Others left in hopes of a brighter future for their children. 

There are already a lot of stressors affecting immigrants but in recent times there has been an increased hostility toward them, mainly due to our national administration. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) works to enforce federal immigration and custom laws. It is most known for investigating, detaining and removing "aliens" from the United States. In recent times, ICE has become a symbol of the U.S. administration’s aggressive immigration policies. Not only do undocumented immigrants have to fear being detained or having a family member taken away, they also have to deal with increased aggression from the general public. Immigrants are faced with hate crimes, racism and violence almost regularly. All of these are stress factors that especially burden expecting mothers. The main disparity is the healthcare system. Undocumented immigrants have lower rates of health insurance coverage than U.S. citizens and documented immigrants. This means later entry or the complete lack of access to prenatal care for immigrants, which is highly risky to both the mother and the developing baby. Stress shows in different ways and many people do not realize that it is a driving force behind many health-related problems. There are several programs available to aid and assist immigrants, such as Medi-Cal, an organization that aims to provide insurance to all expecting mothers regardless of immigration status. There are also food assistance programs such as Migrant Head Start and WIC, nutritional programs for women, infants and children, that also offer assistance, but many undocumented patients are scared to sign up for them because they believe that their personal information could be used to track them. 

Living in a foreign country, one where the people do not respect them, where authorities are out to detain them, where they are unfamiliar to the culture, where the language is unknown to their tongues, undocumented expecting mothers need help more than ever. U.S. citizens or not, they are humans at the end of the day. We must show more compassion and hospitality as we are dealing with human lives and inequality. As Gamboa so eloquently put it, "(Undocumented expecting women) want the same thing for their child, they want the same thing for themselves — to be healthy, and to thrive — and the biggest risk to immigrant women is that the limitations to having access to care and/or having fear navigating through the healthcare system will have detrimental effects on not just the family but as a society."

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Here's to Your Health," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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