Newswise — CHICAGO — In the midst of more than 4 million Ukrainians leaving their home country due to the invasion by Russia, immigration and migration policy has reached a critical crossroads, says a pair of scholars who will speak at DePaul University’s Migration Collaborative Immigration Summit April 29.

Maria Ferrera, associate professor of social work in DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and co-director of DePaul's Center for Community Health Equity, will speak at the summit on the health and mental health of migrants, while Hiroshi Motomura, the Susan Westerberg Prager Distinguished Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law, will discuss immigration law and the need to address political and cultural narratives that are often overlooked.

The daylong summit will bring together scholars, advocates, students and practitioners in the Midwest and beyond to share research and insights on significant developments in migration and human rights. Expert panels will address innovations and strategies in immigrant defense, refugee resettlement, mental health, climate migration and detention, among other topics. The summit will be presented online and in person from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on April 29. More information is available on the summit’s website.

In this Q&A, Ferrera and Motomura preview some of those topics expected to be discussed at the summit.

What is being missed in the public discussion of the current migration crisis?

Motomura: An appreciation of how perceptions of migration depend on how they are portrayed, for example.  Even the label “crisis” reflects an assessment that isn’t necessarily accurate, especially comparing today with similar episodes in the past. Relatedly, the general public and news media — and the people and organizations that pay close attention to migration — could much better appreciate how migration in the current moment is both similar to, and different from, other phases in the history of human migration. We also need to do a better job of understanding the role that economic justice plays in immigrant justice, and of the relationship between anti-immigrant narratives and racial justice.

It's also crucial to respond to migration as a transnational phenomenon that calls for governments to cooperate with each other, not to outsource border control or to take other measures that assume, wrongly, that one country can act alone to influence migration, or can act without considering its historical and current obligations to other countries and other people.

How does current healthcare policy affect undocumented immigrants in the U.S.?

Ferrera: Not all hospitals, clinics and other healthcare institutions are welcoming of undocumented immigrants. We know they underutilize the health care system due to fear of deportation. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) excludes individuals who are undocumented from healthcare coverage. Immigration policies in recent years that include curbing immigration, enhancing immigration enforcement, and the public charge rule that until last year, limited public assistance to immigrant families, all have contributed to this fear and hesitation in receiving health care.

On the upside, progress has been made recently in expanding healthcare in Illinois, as the General Assembly approved $38 million in general revenue for the immigrant services line. Due to this funding, there will be significant increases in support for refugee resettlement services and immigrant welcoming centers. We need more wins like this moving forward.

How do these healthcare issues affect the mental health of immigrants and refugees?

Ferrera: Immigrants and refugees, including unaccompanied children, often experience prolonged distress and various forms of complex trauma. This occurs through the migration process, with many escaping war, torture and various forms of violence in their country of origin. They’re becoming separated from their own families, losing loved ones, their homes and way of life.

Many community organizations and resources are doing much-needed advocacy work and providing trauma-informed care. However, more is needed. Local, state and national legislators need to provide structural support that embraces a trauma-informed lens and increases the workforce of diverse language interpreters and practitioners who engage in culturally sensitive practice. Increased funding and support for immigrant-friendly, community-based organizations that have a long and trusted history of serving immigrants and refugees is also sorely needed.