Advertisement

The Danger Of Denying Health Care To Undocumented Immigrants

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Juan Emmanuel Razo, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was arrested last week on murder charges for allegedly shooting and wounding a woman in Ohio. He is also being accused of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old girl and the murder of a 60-year-old woman, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. Razo, who had been waiting 12 years to be sponsored for a green card by his U.S. citizen father, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder during his first court appearance. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Monday.

Over the past few weeks, anti-immigrant lawmakers have seized on the opportunity of similar tragedies to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities,” where local law enforcement officials can choose not to turn undocumented immigrants over to federal immigration authorities for potential deportation proceedings. They claim that sanctuary cities make Americans less safe.

But while every death is undeniably tragic, Razo’s case in particular sheds light on the lack of mental health resources available to the undocumented population. Although officials didn’t note that Razo was struggling with psychological problems, the immigrant advocacy group Hola Ohio claims he had serious mental health issues “for many years.”

Last week, Lake County Sheriff Daniel Dunlap released a statement stating that deputy sheriffs had previously approached Razo, who gave them a false name and admitted to being in the United States illegally. Though database inquires didn’t turn up any criminal history, the deputy sheriffs still contacted border agents to request the federal agency to issue a detainer to keep Razo in custody, but border agents declined. Razo was subsequently let go. A U.S. Department of Homeland Security official stated that its agents had no legal basis to hold Razo.

Juan Emmanuel Razo CREDIT: Lake County Sheriff’s Department via AP
Juan Emmanuel Razo CREDIT: Lake County Sheriff’s Department via AP

“Juan Razo was not a random illegal alien,” Veronica Dahlberg, the executive director at the immigrant advocacy group Hola Ohio, wrote in a Facebook post, stating that Razo had “grappled with his serious mental health issues for many years” and emphasizing that his actions “do not represent our community.”

Advertisement

“His father is a U.S. citizen who has worked in the fields for 40 years,” Dahlberg noted in the post. “He filed documents for his children over a decade ago and Juan Razo was a beneficiary with an approved petition who has been ‘standing in line’ for his green card for over 12 years. Thus, this is not an issue about immigration, rather it is about the problems associated with adults with mental illness. We are disappointed to see leaders exploiting this tragedy to promote a political agenda.”

Aggressively restrictive federal legislation has prevented the undocumented population from being able to access health insurance and, by extension, mental health services. Mental health studies of the undocumented population generally find that they’re at greater risk of psychological stressors than legal residents and U.S-born citizens.

A 2008 study of Latino adolescents with both legal and undocumented immigrant parents found that “31 percent of adolescents showed signs of sub-clinical or clinical anxiety and 18 percent showed signs of depression,” but also that “nearly one out of every three parents and one out of every five adolescents did not have health insurance.” And a Journal of National Medical Association study found that 39 percent of undocumented Latino immigrants surveyed expressed concern with seeking services for fear of deportation.

Gaps in mental health services also remain an issue for the U.S. population as a whole. More than 61 million Americans suffer from a mental illness, but less than 30 percent of them seek mental health care, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration survey found. What’s more, a Mental Health America report found that Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, and Washington were the lowest ranking states for access to mental care — all states that have a large population of undocumented immigrants.