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Immigrant Access to Health and Human Services

Project Page

September 2011



Immigrant eligibility for health and human service benefits is complicated by a confusing patchwork quilt of federal statutory provisions, state and local benefit program choices and decisions, the mixed citizenship/immigration status of members in many immigrant families (e.g., immigrant parents who may be ineligible, with citizen children who are eligible), and the varying immigration enforcement efforts and initiatives not only at the federal level, but more recently at the state and local levels as well.  Recent enactment of health care reform provisions may further complicate the policy environment and result in additional challenges and opportunities affecting immigrant families’ access to health and human services and the wellbeing of these families.

This project maps and describes the broad policy context that can affect immigrant access to health and human services, and can affect the wellbeing of immigrants and their children, the majority of whom are U.S. citizens.  Through synthesis of existing information, supplemented by in-depth visits to five purposively selected sites, the project:  identifies and describes the eligibility criteria related to immigrant families under major federal and federal/state health and human service programs; identifies and describes major barriers to immigrant families’ access to health and human services, including barriers due to program eligibility provisions, immigration enforcement initiatives, family composition, or other factors; and identifies and describes any innovative or promising practices, program designs, or other strategies and initiatives that appear to facilitate or improve immigrant families’ access to health and human services.


  • Promising Practices for Increasing Immigrants’ Access to Health and Human Services, Research Brief, May 2012
    This brief identifies several promising practices that can help overcome access barriers.  A consistent theme is the crucial role played by community-based organizations (CBOs) in effectively addressing barriers related to complicated application processes, and issues of language, literacy, fear, and mistrust.  All four states visited had established partnerships with local CBOs to help reach immigrant populations in need of health and human services.
  • Barriers to Immigrants’ Access to Health and Human Services Programs, Research Brief, May 2012
    This brief identifies several factors that contribute to lower application and take-up rates among eligible immigrants, including:  (1) the complexity of the application process and eligibility rules; (2) related administrative burdens; (3) language, literacy, and cultural barriers; (4) transportation and other logistical challenges; and (5) climates of fear and mistrust.
  • The Affordable Care Act:  Coverage Implications and Issues for Immigrant Families, Issue Brief, April 2012
    This Issue Brief provides an overview of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will affect the eligibility of different immigrants, depending on lawful status and length of residence in the U.S.  It highlights the demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic characteristics and uninsured rates for key immigrant subgroups and describes how the ACA could affect coverage and access to care for these subgroups and their families.
  • Overview of Immigrants’ Eligibility for SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, and CHIP, Issue Brief, March 2012
    This Issue Brief describes key federal and state immigrant eligibility provisions to help inform policymakers, program administrators, and communities serving immigrant families and children.  It provides an overview of the variability across states regarding immigrant eligibility for SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, and CHIP.
  • A Comprehensive Review of Immigrant Access to Health and Human Services, June 2011
    This paper summarizes the policy landscape affecting immigrants’ eligibility for, and access to, health and human services from a review of literature and existing information.  It provides a building block for the fieldwork and in-depth analyses of immigrant access to health and human services.