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SINGH: We must confront harmful immigration misinformation

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The new year is approaching and with that, we should let go of false, antiquated ideas and let in new accurate ones. This year alone has almost been a test to see how many immigrant-based myths can be bought by the public. There are many beliefs that have circulated, but only a handful have been backed by evidence. 

One of the big ones that is almost ubiquitously known is the false notion that immigrants are “disease-ridden.” Studies indicate that migrants generally have a greater life expectancy than those still residing in their host countries, meaning that migrants tend to fare better than natives. What helps to understand this is the fact that many migrants move to other countries for work-related purposes. Thus, they must be healthy and able enough to perform those tasks. 

But a serious health concern that migrants do face is not one they have imposed on themselves, but rather one imposed on to them by others: death from assault. This stems from perpetuated racist and xenophobic ideas that lead to violence. The anti-immigrant rhetoric is much more dangerous than many initially thought. The rhetoric creates an us-versus-them mindset which then leads to the implementation of policies that hurt immigrants instead of assisting them. 

In 2018 alone, there have been more than one billion migrations internationally. This is a bold movement as the anti-immigration mindset continues to grow. On Oct. 29, President Donald J. Trump tweeted: “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” Trump's tweet was in reference to migrants escaping Honduras due to the violence and poverty currently plaguing the country. 

If a political leader, or rather the president of a country, was to use their social media platforms to spread anti-immigration ideologies, then citizens are bound to be influenced by the internalization of this hateful mindset. Thus, it is imperative that we stay attentive to the specific words and phrases we implement when describing a group that is being marginalized. People should refrain from using generalized derogatory terms, claiming all migrants are violent, or "detrimental to the economy," or "disease-ridden."

"Too often, government policies prioritize the politics of xenophobia and racism over their responsibilities to act forcefully to counter them. Racial and ethnic discrimination fuel the exclusion of migrant populations, not only violating the rights of individuals, but hindering social cohesion and progress of society at large. Racism and prejudice should be confronted with a zero-tolerance approach," said Bernadette Kumar, professor at the Norwegian Institute for Public Health.

There needs to be a constitutional conversation that addresses immigrants in an accurate light and reflects the benefits they have provided to high-income countries. It is time to get more accessible, evidence-based work out to the public. What people hear instead are the incidents in which the government tear-gasses children or separates family members at the borders. This is simply making the atmosphere much more toxic and unhealthy for immigrants. They are being persecuted so severely now that even the legal ones are facing the deleterious effects of the discrimination. 

Along with assault, mental disorders are another health hardship immigrants face. The public backlash toward the forcibly-displaced has caused a high prevalence of depression and anxiety among the children of migrants. As a result, they battle with narcotic use, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and behavioral problems.

Global leaders must create healthy programs that meet the needs of future generations. Not enough is being done to help these children who are greatly suffering from the side effects of not only mass prejudice, but also the forced separation from their families. These incidents take a great toll on a young developing person and it puts them at a greater risk of developing PTSD or other health repercussions at a later stage in life. 

"The separation of migrant children from their parents creates long-term psychological damage — and is a cruel and unnecessary aspect of US policy. The criminalization and detention of migrants seeking internationally protected refuge violates international law and puts them at greater risk of ill health. Migrants are vital to our well-being as a society. Addressing the healthcare needs of migrant populations is an essential strategy to stemming costs associated with any avoidable disease burden in these populations," said Terry McGovern, a professor at Columbia University.

The only weapon to battle the ignorance of false information is education. At the microscopic level, people need to take everything they hear with a grain of salt. Questioning information will encourage people to find evidence of whether the facts are accurate or inaccurate. At the macroscopic level, the government must prioritize all of its citizens instead of a select favorite, and should provide equal treatment. Hopefully 2019 will be the year that these issues of basic human rights get diminished once and for all.

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Here's to Your Health," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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