A Complex Landscape of Healthcare Access for Latinx Immigrants

By Lucy Ellis

Lucy Ellis, an intern in Human Rights First’s communications department in the fall of ’23, is a Junior at Wake Forest University, studying Psychology and Bioethics. She is passionate about health equity and access, as well as working to make healthcare an accessible human right. 

America’s healthcare system is neither equitable nor accessible to all. The Institute for Youth In Policy reports that poverty is a major factor determining access to quality care. Poverty, often intertwined with lack of job security and challenges to gaining citizenship, deeply affects access to care. The lack of access to healthcare and health insurance is a social, political, and ethical issue because the experience of poverty in the United States is drawn along racial, ethnic, and citizen status lines, reports The National Library of Medicine

Due to the persistent racial disparities ingrained in our country’s institutions, immigrants—especially Latinx immigrants—encounter significant barriers in accessing quality healthcare. These challenges extend to securing stable, well-paying employment, ensuring job safety, and environmental health, including living and working in areas with high levels of exposure to air pollution, dangerous drinking water, and lead or mercury contamination. Furthermore, obstacles such as difficulty entering American degree programs and language barriers hinder immigrants from accessing high-quality jobs, which negatively impacts their ability to afford quality healthcare.

These issues compound for Latinx immigrants, especially those seeking citizenship in the United States. Linguistic and cultural differences, financial constraints,, discrimination, and racism against Latinx immigrants inhibit establishing citizenship in the United States and  access to jobs, insurance, and social acceptance. 

The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated these disparities even further. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinx immigrants, evidenced by high rates of hospitalizations and deaths in this group. The Pew Research Center found that Hispanic Americans are “far more likely than white Americans to have been hospitalized or died because of the coronavirus.” Similarly, the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing reports that Hispanic Americans made up more than a third of COVID-19 cases at the peak of the pandemic. These higher rates can be associated with healthcare access issues that existed long before the pandemic.

During the pandemic, tens of thousands of internationally trained healthcare workers, many of whom are immigrants, were unable to work here because their training is not recognized by the United States. COVID exacerbated pre-existing issues with immigrant healthcare workers, preventing them from accessing reliable jobs and salaries. This helped perpetuate cycles of poverty and further restricted their ability to obtain healthcare insurance. 

COVID-19 serves as a lens through which to understand the broader and ongoing issues plaguing the Latinx immigrant community in America.  The pandemic heightened issues of poverty, job access, racism, and access to healthcare. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that while many Latinx immigrants are healthy and employed, many others face major barriers to accessing and utilizing healthcare in the United States. This is due in large part to high rates of uninsurance among Latinx immigrant populations because of low wages, language barriers, and cultural differences. 

Based on these challenges, Latinx immigrants in America were far less likely to receive necessary preventive or immediate care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to health insurance is the first step for many in accessing quality care. The Pew Research Center reports that Hispanic adults who are immigrants in America are less likely than non-Latinx immigrant Americans to have health insurance at all. They are also less likely to receive preventative medical care. With disproportionately high rates of poverty in Hispanic groups, Latinx migrants face excess hurdles to accessing better health care.

Lastly, fears surrounding deportation and the American legal system pose major issues for Latinx immigrants in accessing basic healthcare needs. The Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health explains that fears of deportation or other punishments brought on by immigration officials can deter immigrants from accessing necessary health resources in America. Undocumented immigrants face excessive amounts of health discrimination, including being denied access to care and health insurance, and the rise of punitive immigration policies in border control heightens their fears of seeking institutional help . 

These issues of access to healthcare in America for Latinx immigrants underscore  the problems of privatized healthcare, unfair and inhumane immigrant laws, structural issues with wages, institutional poverty, and more. Immigrants already face social, legal, professional, and educational barriers and discrimination in America, and should not also have to struggle to obtain what ought to be the universal human right of healthcare. Systemic policy and business changes must be made to change the outcome for America’s Latinx immigrant population. 

The disproportionate lack of access to good medical care for Latinx immigrants during the pandemic serves as a lens for the larger issues of racial, class, and citizen status inequity in healthcare in the United States. Understanding this inequality is the first step to socio-political healthcare change. We can demand change from our representatives, owners of hospitals and insurance companies, and immigration officials to continue to bring equal access to healthcare for all people in America. 



Published on December 6, 2023


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