Health Care for Migrants as a Human Right

Beatrix Hoffman, Northern Illinois University

Human rights, by definition, are supposed to cross borders and apply to all people regardless of citizenship. In practice, economic and social rights such as the right to health are rarely applied to immigrant and migrant populations. Non-citizens and newcomers are more often seen as threats to public health than as deserving of rights. The recent migrant and refugee crisis in Europe, and polarizing debates over immigration in the United States, have made the question of non-citizen access to health care still more controversial and urgent. This paper will examine the history of ideas about rights to health care for immigrant and migrant populations. Its focus will be on debates in the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the World Health Organization over whether and how to apply the social right to health to populations that move across national borders. The United Nations approved the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families in 1990. Using the archives of the UN and WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, this paper will discuss the debates over migrant health rights that emerged during the meetings over the Migrant Convention. At these meetings, universalistic notions of the right to health as applying to “everyone” clashed with member countries’ concerns about border protection and their desire to limit health care expenditures to their own citizens. I will also discuss how activist movements have utilized the language of international human rights in debates over access to health care for immigrants and migrants.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 46. Health Crossing Borders and Barriers: Latina/o, Immigrant, and Migrant Access to Health Care