Filling the Vacuum: Immigration, Health Policy and Latino Leadership in Medicine

By Jacob Begres and Orlando Sola

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
-Donald Trump

The history of the United States is defined by waves of immigration, starting first with English religious migrants and moving through migration from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America.  Though we have seen periods of migration from a variety of cultures and ethnicities, the Latino experience has been particularly entwined in our country’s history and reaches back to the very founding of the nation, when lands inhabited by Spanish-speaking communities were integrated into the new American social fabric.  Despite this long history of Latino migration, however, the history of discourse surrounding Latino economic and political migrants has been fraught with bigotry and historical myopia from its political leaders.  We need look no further than our own presidential election to find examples…

As such, the Latino community has been, and continues to be, the subject of countless debate questions, conferences, and political advertisements in the current media.  Yet few, if any, of the individuals involved in current political discourse have understand the Latino experience in America. Latino migrational trends continue to grow as Latinos are the fasting growing demographic in the United States – in fact, during the decade of 2000-2010, half of the nation’s population growth was due to Latino immigrants alone.  Despite these demographic shifts, the Latino population continues to suffer from a dearth of political advocates.  The growth in the Latino population, coupled with a lack of political agency, is magnified in health policy, where debates are based on politically motivated anecdotes instead of empiric data endorsed by individuals with expertise in both health care provision and health policy.

In the wake of this, and the current schism dividing our country regarding issues affecting the Latino community, it will be crucial to ensure a productive and positive political discourse moving forward. So the question stands: Who will lead Latino men, women, and children towards a future of health equity?  Who will represent Latinos in the fight for justice and dignity in health care?

The Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) has answered this call and taken important steps towards ensuring future generations of Latinos benefit from immigration policy.  LMSA students provide a voice for rising leaders within the Latino community. These future advocates will create the policy solutions to meet the needs of a growing Latino community in the United States.

In 2014, a group of DACA-eligible students joined the LMSA policy committee looking for peer support and a venue for advocacy.  This group of leaders became the seed of the LMSA Immigration Caucus: a collection of students, residents, and physicians focused on advocating for the rights of immigrant medical students and the patients they serve.  Through them, a new beacon for the improvement of immigration policy has been formed.

The immigration caucus and the LMSA training curriculum in health policy represent a future where policies affecting Latino communities are not developed for the benefit of specific political groups, but are developed for the benefit of the Latino community itself.  Through peer support, academic achievement, and political advocacy, the LMSA Immigration Caucus will help shape a future where Latino medical students and physicians are empowered to advocate for their patients.  We are here to build a greater future, and to make America great – truly great – in a way we can all be proud of.

“America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity.  That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts.”
-James Madison

Jacob Begres
is a second year medical student at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine and the student chair for the LMSA Immigration Caucus.  He is committed to seeing comprehensive immigration policy reform and has been passionately pursuing this since his time working as an educator in the City of Chicago. 


Orlando Sola, MD, MPH
is a Family Medicine resident at the Institute for Family Health/Mount Sinai Hospital.  He started working with the Latino Medical Student Association as a medical student, and continues to assist LMSA students to develop policy initiatives and organizational infrastructure.

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