How Does an Immigration Ban Antagonize Global Health?

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Trump’s immigration ban, initially instated through an executive order (EO) on Jan. 27, 2017, was suspended by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 9, 2017. According to this EO, refugees were barred from the U.S. for 120 days, Syrian refugees were indefinitely banned and citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen were precluded from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

In a swift response, legal, health and human rights experts convened on Feb. 2, 2017, for a symposium, “Executive Order on Refugees: An Emerging Public Health Crisis” to assess the ramifications of the EO on global health. An immigration ban imposes impediments on the following three critical aspects of global health.

  1. Disease Control and Treatment
    Work of several scientists was impacted during the ban. For instance, U.S. based foreign-born scientists were stranded in Iran, disrupting life-altering HIV programs in Syria and Iraq. Rising apprehensions caused scientists to contemplate canceling travel plans. A vast network of international scientists is needed to understand the epidemiology of infectious diseases such as Leishmaniasis and schistosomiasis currently gaining momentum in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Another potentially lethal disease, Mycetoma, affecting impoverished people in 23 countries, is still in need of a cure. Travel is an integral part of science. Vaccinations need to be developed through collaborations with local scientists in conflict zones or tropical regions where such diseases thrive. An immigration ban restricting travel jeopardizes public health.Countries being able to respond to domestic epidemics or crises efficiently is in the best interest of U.S. as well. Building scientific partnerships at international conferences is critical to preventing pandemics such as Ebola from becoming global epidemics. An immigration ban hinders the process of scientific innovation resulting in dire consequences for disease containment and treatment.
  2. Science and Technology
    The ban threatened to disrupt the work of international research teams overseas. It also left scientists stranded, unable to return home and to their work, effectively impeding progress in finding cures for many life-threatening diseases. Professional and personal lives were disrupted with many contemplating sacrificing years of scientific accomplishments in order to maintain their freedom and dignity. An immigration ban would impede scientific progress. A significant portion of American academic achievements can be attributed to U.S. based foreign-born scientists. On average, 30 percent of all U.S. Nobel Laureates have been immigrants. They continue to make staggering contributions to science, technology, engineering and math. Between 1901 and 2014, 35 percent of the 277 Nobel prizes for physics, physiology, medicine or chemistry were awarded to naturalized Americans. In 2015, 46 and 44 percent foreign-born U.S. researchers received Howard Hughes funding for biomedical research and Sloan fellowships for groundbreaking work in various fields of science. Two of the four U.S. recipients of the Fields Medal in 2014 were foreign-born.Scientists across America adjured President Trump to revoke the EO through a petition, ‘Academics Against Immigration Executive Order’ released on Jan. 28, 2017. It has been signed by more than 42,000 academic supporters including 30,000 faculty members, 62 Nobel Laureates and 105 recipients of the highest scientific accolades including Fields, Pulitzer and McArthur. Academics criticized it for discriminating based on race and religion. They stressed its iniquity for putting unjust pressure on the lives of scholars and deemed it hazardous to scientific progress and national interests.
  3. Humanitarian relief
    An immigration ban creates obstacles for humanitarians by curbing their freedom of movement. In spite of time-sensitive needs in various parts of the world, aid agencies including CARE and Oxfam were forced to restrict travel during its enforcement. It also inhibits foreign aid workers in the seven countries from entering the U.S. Local aid workers are crucial assets on the ground and important ambassadors of the cause. Save the Children, an international NGO operating in 120 countries, often invites foreign affiliates to the U.S. as advocates to share their expertise and knowledge with the U.N. and members of Congress.Aid workers carry out a multitude of time-sensitive tasks from managing logistics for timely delivery of food to providing lifesaving health care. An immigration ban jeopardizes U.S. aid workers’ security and entry to foreign countries. The Iraqi government is already considering denying entry to American agencies. Such hindrances on humanitarian efforts due to an immigration ban would result in irreparable damage to the lives of millions struggling to survive in areas of protracted crisis.

An immigration ban such as the one imposed on Jan. 27 is undoubtedly detrimental to global health. It is based on the faulty premise of strengthening national security through isolation, whereas collaboration and compassion are the requisites of a healthier world that includes the U.S.

Preeti Yadav

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Preeti Yadav

Preeti lives in Portland, OR. She has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and has worked as a biomedical engineer for 6 years. Preeti recently transitioned out of this role to pursue her passion for writing and utilize her skills towards affecting positive change. Preeti's dream is to live in a bamboo cottage on a beautiful beach in Asia with her husband, pursue local humanitarian work and continue writing.

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