Immigrants, Immigration, and Public Health in a Global Society

Public health issues faced by Immigrants

Public Health Week takes a look at the variety of issues affecting different populations, such as climate change, gun violence, and healthcare. As part of our team’s Public Health Week series, we are going to take a closer look at health issues facing a particular group of people in the United States: Immigrants.

Immigrant Health in the United States

Immigrants to the United States face personal and public health issues that citizens of our country do not face. From difficulty finding healthcare to being unable to effectively communicate with their community, these population-specific issues show a multifaceted challenge for the immigrant population.

And access to public health necessities, like food, housing, and hygiene products, are even more challenging for refugees who were forced to flee their homes quickly to escape violence. 

These challenges are only compounded when messaging from our elected officials target immigrant populations for prejudice or political reasons. During the previous presidential administration, Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric did more than just score political points with his base; studies show that immigration policy changes and the rhetoric surrounding them actually helped cause a decrease in immigrant populations from utilizing public services like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), even for legal immigrants.

Immigrant populations in Iowa

While the state of Iowa has a relatively low population of immigrants compared to other states, there are many different immigration communities spread out across the state. And Des Moines has one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the country, according to the Des Moines Register.

Across Iowa, there are over 175,000 foreign-born people, making up around 6% of the state population.

And there are a variety of groups helping out with different immigration populations as they settle in the state. These groups and their mission are, according to each of their websites:

EMBARC“The Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC) was originally founded in 2012 to help new refugees from Burma successfully settle in Iowa.”

Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice – “A movement for justice led by immigrants and refugees in Iowa by providing high-quality legal services and community empowerment through organizing.”

Iowa Legal Aid – “Iowa Legal Aid provides free civil legal assistance and does not charge their clients for legal services,”  and provides the following legal services for immigrants:

Family Concerns, Food Help, Health Concerns, Passport Information, Individual Rights, Self-Petitions and Waivers for Battered Spouses, Work Issues, Other Work as Needed

Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence – The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence seeks to engage all people in a movement to change the social and political systems that perpetuate violence. We do this through education, advocacy and quality services.

And while many of the organizations above are also able to help out refugee populations in Iowa, there are refugee-specific resources in the state as well.

The Iowa Department of Human Services has a Refugee Services department with a current hotline for Ukrainian Disaster and Distress.

Finally, the Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa has partnerships with many different nonprofit and religious institutions across central Iowa, and they also provide resources for refugees settling in Iowa.

Moving Forward

You can read in-depth stories from Afghan refugees in the ongoing series written by the Des Moines Register. You can find their first article here: As Afghans struggle, Iowa is poised to take refugees from Ukraine. But is the state ready?

You can also find locations to donate to at these following links to help out immigrants and refugees in Iowa.

Ukraine Assistance Link – list of places to donate on

Afghan Immigrants Donation Link – list of places to donate from the Des Moines Register

Burmese Immigrants Donation Link – Donate to EMBARC, Iowa

General Immigrant/Refugee Donation Link – Formerly Justice for Our Neighbors, Iowa’s Migrant Movement for Justice helps immigrant communities around the state.

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