Illegal Immigrants Deserve Health Care, Too

ByRachel Burns

Increase funding to community health centers and expand outreach efforts to help legal and illegal immigrants better access health insurance.

In 2010, the United States’ immigrant population, both legal and illegal, peaked at a historic record of 40 million. Representing almost 13 percent of the nation’s total population, immigrants have become an essential part of American society, providing an indispensible labor force and a wealth of ethnic diversity. Despite their integral role, immigrants lack adequate and equitable access to health care. In 2007, 33.2 percent of all immigrants did not have health insurance, a number more than two times higher than native-born citizens. As a result of this discrepancy, immigrants have become identified as a considerably vulnerable demographic. This status has been increasingly shaped by various factors, including socioeconomic background, immigration status, limited English proficiency, access to publicly funded health care, residential location, and marginalization. 

Together, these factors reinforce a growing disparity that the United States has an obligation to mitigate. Poor access to health care has had and will continue to have serious implications on the health of immigrants and their children, and in turn the health of our nation. 


This policy calls for an increase in funding for community health centers and the expansion of outreach efforts to help legal and illegal immigrants to better access health insurance. With greater financial support, community health centers will be able to employ a larger and more culturally competent staff to help guide immigrants through the often difficult applications for health insurance. Additionally, the funds will allow for more community outreach efforts striving to educate and encourage immigrants to apply for health insurance. With greater financial support, community health centers can take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to improving the health of our nation. An increase in funds would be utilized in a myriad of ways, including the creation of comprehensive educational resources of the available health insurance programs for immigrants and the assistance for the actual application process. For many immigrants, acquiring insurance under publicly funded health care programs such as Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) seems overly difficult and unattainable. The implementation of this policy will help immigrants to reconceptualize health insurance by reducing cultural barriers and thus providing more equitable access. 

This policy will have a profound impact on American society. Immigrants and their dependents will receive more equitable access to health care and in turn live healthier lives. On a state and local level, immigrants will rely less on clinics and hospitals that provide free or reduced-price services, relieving a significant financial burden. On a national level, a decrease in uninsured inhabitants will result in an enormous reduction of cost incurred by the lack of insurance. 

Next Steps

The implementation of this policy will be divided into three phases. First, the funds will become available to community health centers. Second, the centers will expand their staff to include experienced and culturally competent workers. Third, each center will create an educational curriculum for immigrants and develop sustainable outreach programs.