Bioethics Blogs

El agua no es potabo: Immigration and Public Health Policy in Flint

The public health catastrophe known as the Flint water crisis is also a textbook case about the consequences of immigration policy, including the federal stalemate concerning reform and state-level policymaking, on the health of undocumented immigrants living in this low-income city. This population is vulnerable under normal circumstances, as well as during public emergencies. They fear interaction with authorities or a knock on the door. They are usually unable to produce identification as proof of eligibility for services, and they avoid situations in which they fear that they will be asked to produce ID. They are often unable to obtain information in the languages they understand. They live below the radar, and public officials may be blind, or hostile, to their presence in the community.

In Flint, home to an estimated 1,000 undocumented immigrants, reporters from Michigan Radio and Think Progress  have described the challenges of getting clean water and timely, accurate information to this Spanish-speaking population.  People who don’t answer a knock on the door can’t receive supplies and information being provided in that way by the National Guard. People who fear engaging with authorities or who cannot provide ID will have great difficulty obtaining supplies and information that requires going to a public place (and showing ID). People who lack reliable sources of information in their own language will rely on word of mouth, or conclude that there is no problem.

Door to door canvassing coordinated by a community-based Hispanic/Latino organization found that in late January most immigrants still had no idea that they should not drink the water: the message known to the nation simply had not reached them.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.