178569 Public health nursing and undocumented immigrant populations: Seeing through media hype on “illegal” immigrants, or what's in a word?

Monday, October 27, 2008: 8:30 AM

Sister Sharon McGuire McGuire, PhD , Nursing, Siena Heights University, Adrian, MI

Concern for the health and welfare of populations drives the work of public health, including public health nursing (PHN). Historically, whites have constituted the largest populations in the U. S. Projections of population growth in the next decade predict a dramatic shift in U. S. racial/ethnic make-up. But what happens when racial and ethnic groups, previously in the minority, comprise the majority of the population? How have public health nurses positioned themselves to meet the needs of a diverse population, particularly the needs of undocumented immigrants—a group around which there is local, regional, and national dispute and debate?

The goal of health equity, embodied in this year's annual meeting theme, “Public Health without Borders,” mandates a commitment to justice and systematic assessment of health determinants. Racism, poverty, environmental exposures, wealth disparities, and social class play integral roles in influencing health equity. These elements come alive through the language used to portray immigrants living and working without juridical status in the U. S.


In this presentation, negative rhetoric and hate speech promulgated in the media about undocumented immigrants will be analyzed for undertones of racism, violence, and exclusion that are inimical to the health of undocumented immigrants. Alternative non-violent language about undocumented immigrants will be proposed for PH nurses to deploy in their practice, educate the public, and influence humane immigration policy development.


Not applicable


Understanding the power of language as a destructive or constructive tool is critical to knowing how to resist dehumanizing images, and deploying language that connects humans in relationships that promote health. How we talk about undocumented immigrants is crucial for supporting their efforts for health and dignity; for promoting all inclusive public health measures; and for positively influencing immigration and policy related to immigrant health care .

Learning Objectives:
1. By the end of the session participants will be able to critique and discuss at least 5 media images and languages (words/phrases) that dehumanize undocumented immigrants. 2. By the end of the session participants will be able to deploy at least 5 alternative languages words/phrases that humanize and dignify undocumented immigrants and reduce barriers to health care.

Keywords: Immigrants, Barriers to Care

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have many years of experience working with first generation immigrants in education and health care, both documented and undocumented. I have also conducted health research with immigrants from Mexico and published my work.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.