USA ICE: How Immigration Enforcement Lowered Birth Weights

Having watched Immigration Nation, understandable:

Since 2002, counties across the U.S. have entered into agreements with Immigrations and Custom Enforcement to deputize local police officers to perform a range of ICE duties.

New research shows that in one county in North Carolina, the program negatively affected birth outcomes, including lowering average birth weights and decreasing the use of prenatal services by parents.

“Regardless of how you feel about immigration policies, it’s important to realize that there may be other effects that perhaps weren’t intended, but nevertheless have real consequences,” says Christina Gibson-Davis, a professor of public policy at Duke University and one of the authors of the peer-reviewed study. “Health at birth has real downstream effects — it’s related to lower earnings and worse health for adults.”

Immigration has historically been under the purview of the federal government, but in the last few decades, enforcement responsibilities have increasingly been delegated to local police and sheriff’s offices. Some local governments, loosely called “sanctuary cities,” refuse to participate in a number of ways. Others, let’s call them “anti-sanctuary cities,” jump at the chance to prove their tough-on-immigration bonafides. One way they do this is through what are known as 287g agreements.

Mecklenburg County pioneered the use of this program in 2006 to cast a wide net for undocumented immigrants under then-sheriff Jim Pendergraph, who later went on to join ICE’s ranks.

Gibson-Davis, who studies the effect of public policy on low-income families, wanted to test how this county’s 287g agreement might impact birth outcomes, given that social and economic disadvantages of parents are often visible in the health of their newborns.

She and her colleagues compiled data from state birth certificates between 2004 and 2006 and compared birth outcomes before and after the introduction of the policy in Mecklenburg County, where the city of Charlotte is based. They also compared the findings with other North Carolina regions that did not enter into 287g agreements.

After controlling for other factors through a statistical analysis, the researchers found that babies in Mecklenburg County weighed 58.54 grams (a little more than two ounces)less on average than before the policy change. This effect corresponded with an increase in the share of children who were small for their gestational age at birth and a decrease in prenatal care utilization by parents.

“We feel pretty confident that we’ve identified … what we call the ‘causal impact,’” Gibson-Davis says. The effect “wasn’t because of changes in the population necessarily, or some other factor that might have been happening at the same time.”

The researchers didn’t test the reasons for this outcome, but they can make some educated guesses.

“There is a large [body of] literature that suggests that stress can have negative effects on the fetus when it’s in utero, so though we can’t identify the exact cause, stress may be one reason for our findings,” Gibson-Davis says. As to the decrease in prenatal care, Gibson-Davis says those who feared the attention of ICE authorities may be less likely to risk going to a doctor.

The researchers also found that the effects were more pronounced for foreign-born mothers with a lower level of education, which they believe signals a couple of things: One, this group may be more likely to be undocumented; and two, it may include parents who have “fewer resources with which to buffer stress,” Gibson-Davis says. (Data on citizenship status was not included in the study.)

The findings add to a body of research on the adverse health effects of aggressive local immigration enforcement. Other studies have found that Latina and Hispanic pregnant women tend to seek less prenatal care because they lack trust in authorities, and that Latino immigrants report lower mental well-being.

The rationale from Trump-era officials for 287g agreements — a version of which continues to be up on the ICE web page about the program — is that they enhance “the safety and security of communities by creating partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies.” But other research has called this goal into question. Studies have found that 287g agreements don’t reduce crimes and can actually deter immigrants from reporting crime. They can also lead to racial profiling complaints and cause a “chilling effect,” prompting immigrants fearful of increased enforcement in their communities to withdraw from public life, including by frequenting businesses or seeking education services that they need. All of this could play a role in the health outcomes Gibson-Davis studied in her research.

The number of 287(g) agreements multiplied exponentially during the Trump administration. From 2017 to 2018, they doubled from 35 to more than 70. By the time Trump left office, the number of these agreements had jumped to 150. A new Governmental Accountability Office report found that the program’s rapid expansion under Trump took place without adequate oversight, tracking or training.

Stress From Racism May Be Causing African-American Babies To Die More Often : Shots – Health News : NPR

Ongoing impact from micro-agressions or other factors?

“Black babies in the United States die at just over two times the rate of white babies in the first year of their life,” says Arthur James, an OB-GYN at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every 1,000 live births, 4.8 white infants die in the first year of life. For black babies, that number is 11.7.

The majority of those black infants that die are born premature, says James, because black mothers like Pierce have a higher risk of going into early labor.

Scientists and doctors have spent decades trying to understand what makes African-American women so vulnerable to losing their babies. Now, there is growing consensus that racial discrimination experienced by black mothers during their lifetime makes them less likely to carry their babies to full term.

James, 65, has seen far too many black babies who didn’t survive.

It just doesn’t seem right, says James, who is also African-American. “You ask yourself the question: What is it about being black that places us at an increased risk for that kind of experience?”

A decades-long quest

Richard David, a neonatologist at the University of Illinois of Chicago, has been studying this for decades. When he first began looking into the problem in the 1980s, he says scientists thought the two main culprits were poverty and lack of education.

“We knew African-American women were more likely to be poor,” says David. “We knew that fewer of them had completed their education by the time they were bearing children.”

But David, who at the time was at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago, and his colleague James Collins at Northwestern University Medical School found that even educated, middle-class African-American women were at a higher risk of having smaller, premature babies with a lower chance of survival.

For example, David says, black and white teenage mothers growing up in poor neighborhoods both have a higher risk of having smaller, premature babies. “They both have something like a 13 percent chance of having a low birth weight baby,” he says.

But in higher-income neighborhoods where women are likely to be slightly older and more educated, “among white women, the risk of low birth weight drops dramatically to about half of that, whereas for African-American women, it only drops a little bit.”

In fact, today, a college-educated black woman like Samantha Pierce is more likely to give birth prematurely than a white woman with a high school degree.

“That’s exactly the kind of case that makes us ask the question: What else is there?” says David. “What are we missing?”

Some people suggested that the root cause may be genetics. But if genes are at play, then women from Africa would also have the same risks. So, David and his colleague, Collins, looked at the babies of immigrant women from West Africa. But as they reported in their 1997 study in The New England Journal of Medicine, those babies were more like white babies — they were bigger and more likely to be full term. So, it clearly isn’t genetics, says David.

Then, many years later, David and Collins noticed something startling. The grandchildren of African immigrant women were born smaller than their mothers had been at birth. In other words, the grandchildren were more likely than African-American babies — more likely to be premature.

This was also true of the grandchildren of black women who had emigrated from the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, the grandchildren of white European immigrant women were bigger than their mothers when they were born. David and Collins published their results in 2002 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“So, there was something about growing up black in the United States and then bearing a child that was associated with lower birth weight,” says David.

Growing up black and female in America

What is different about growing up black in America is discrimination, says David. “It’s hard to find any aspect of life that’s not impacted by racial discrimination,” he says. “Whether you’re talking about applying for a job, or purchasing a new car, finding housing, getting education … even given equal education, earning the same amount of money, that doesn’t happen. If you’re black, you tend to get less pay.”

As a recent poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found, 92 percent of African-Americans believe that discrimination against African-Americans exists in America today. Higher education and income did not necessarily mean people experienced less discrimination, the poll found.

In 2004, David and Collins published a study in the American Journal of Public Health in which they reported the connection between a mother’s experience of racism and preterm birth. They asked women about their housing, income, health habits and discrimination. “It turned out that as a predictor of a very low birth weight outcome, these racial discrimination questions were more powerful than asking a woman whether or not she smoked cigarettes,” David says.

Other studies have shown the same results.

via Stress From Racism May Be Causing African-American Babies To Die More Often : Shots – Health News : NPR