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'Invisible' Migrants May Hold Key to Health Care Debate

A new SDSU study looks at health care, lifestyle and employment patterns of unauthorized migrants.
The Consulate General of Brazil hosted a flag-raising ceremony during the 13th Brazilian Independence Festival in Boston.
The Consulate General of Brazil hosted a flag-raising ceremony during the 13th Brazilian Independence Festival in Boston.

As the national debate about health care reform rages on, some question whether illegal immigrants should be covered under a national health care plan.

At the same time, there are concerns about certain minority groups being missed in the upcoming 2010 Census, while some believe they shouldn’t even be included in government statistics.

Important issues highlighted

Two new reports released today by San Diego State University’s Center for Behavioral and Community Health Studies, and co-authored by Boston’s Brazilian Immigrant Center and the Dominican Develop Center, shed some light on these issues.

By illustrating the importance of the U.S. Census Bureau more aggressively reaching out to migrant communities that have historically gone uncounted, and of current efforts to pursue universal health insurance coverage, the study demonstrates there is much that is unknown about large populations in the country that would undoubtedly be affected by major policy initiatives.

The two-part study – (In)Visible (Im)Migrants: The Health and Socioeconomic Integration of Brazilians in Metropolitan Boston and Permanently Temporary? The Health and Socioeconomic Integration of Dominicans in Metropolitan Boston – provides the first statistically credible estimates of legal and unauthorized Brazilians and Dominicans residing in the seven-county Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metropolitan area. These groups represent the second and third largest migrant groups in the Boston area.

Specifically, it provides information concerning the migration experiences and socioeconomic status of both legal and illegal members of these two groups; their lifestyle and health care practices, labor patterns, neighborhood and socioeconomic characteristics and broader social integration. It will be presented at Harvard University’s Population and Development Center today and then publicly unveiled at 10 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 15, at Boston’s City Hall.

'Invisible' migrants

According to demographer Enrico Marcelli, the lead author of both reports, there are other “invisible” migrant populations, such as foreign-born Chinese, Indian, Italian and Irish residents of the United States that, if studied, could help policy makers make more informed decisions regarding how to augment participation in the 2010 Census and insurance coverage among immigrants.

“I don’t know an area of the country, rural or urban, where these issues are not of some concern,” said Marcelli, professor in SDSU’s Department of Sociology.

“In discussing whether or not unauthorized migrants should be required to have health insurance, it would be beneficial to have a more accurate picture of how healthy those populations are and how many people are getting emergency care without it, as well as what those people actually contribute to our society by filling jobs that others prefer not to do.”

About the study

The study, which was co-authored with two community-based organizations working with these populations and other researchers from the University of Southern California, Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts, Boston suggest that approximately 64,000 foreign-born Brazilians and 64,000 foreign-born Dominicans lived in the Boston area in 2007.

The U.S. Census estimate of the number of Brazilians for the same year (46,000) is estimated to be 29 percent lower, and it is likely the Census estimate of Dominicans is also low. On average, adult Brazilian migrants:

•    Had a substantially higher proportion residing illegally in the United States (71 versus 8 percent)
•    Earned more than their Dominican counterparts ($29,000 versus $26,000)
•    Lived in homes that required higher mortgage or rental payments than Dominicans
•    Were more likely to have been married than Dominicans (55 versus 45 percent)
•    Were less likely to have tapped into public assistance than Dominicans (1 versus 8 percent)
•    Were less likely to have filed for or paid income taxes than Dominicans (50 versus 80 percent)  

“The U.S. Census Bureau should be commended for stepping up its outreach to these communities during the past several decades and especially more recently, letting them know that this is not an effort to round them up and deport them, rather, it’s an effort to make sure their presence is known to better serve their and their legal compatriots needs,” Marcelli said.

“That said, Latinos are not a homogeneous community and more research is needed to better understand the nuances between constituent groups. To make responsible policy decisions, we need to have this kind of information about other migrant communities in different regions across the country."

Both reports can be found in their entirety online at www.sdsubach.org or www.braziliancenter.org.

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