Empowering Immigrants: A Guide to Health Rights & Resources

Empowering Immigrants: A Guide to Health Rights & Resources

By Rahwa Yehdego, Emory REAL Student Intern, Georgia Watch

Nearly 1 in 10 Georgians are foreign-born, and 1 in 13 are native-born children with at least one immigrant parent [1]. This substantial immigrant population is essential to the social and economic infrastructure in Georgia. Immigrants play a pivotal role in fueling the economy from starting businesses and promoting entrepreneurship to bringing in diverse skill sets that shape the flexibility and growth of the labor force [2]. As a result, immigrants generate nearly $2 billion in business revenue yearly and, as consumers, contribute tens of billions of dollars to Georgia’s economy [1]. Immigrants are vitally important in Georgia, but they often face challenges to accessing basic needs.

Immigrants face a myriad of barriers to healthcare, including language and literacy challenges, lack of social support, and stigma. The lack of cultural competency among healthcare staff in tandem with mistranslated materials further impedes immigrants from obtaining high quality care. Other obstacles, however, are a direct result of exclusionary policies that limit family visitation and reunification, restrict eligibility to insurance (employment-based, Medicaid, CHIP, and the ACA Marketplace), and contribute to widespread avoidance of preventative care due to fear of deportation.

With support from leading national health advocacy organization, Community Catalyst, Georgia Watch sought to better understand these barriers to healthcare services for immigrant populations in Georgia. We focused on Asian and Hispanic immigrant communities in the Buford Highway corridor, which serves as home to one of the highest concentrations of foreign-born residents in the country [3]. Through our state-wide coalition of Community Health Workers (CHWs), we were introduced to community members who shared stories about obstacles they continue to face in accessing affordable, quality healthcare.

Georgia Watch hosted a listening session with a group of Hispanic CHWs, also referred to as Promotoras(es) de Salud, working in the Buford Highway community who shared stories of their clients’ difficulties navigating the healthcare system. Common issues mentioned were difficulty understanding medical bill charges and paying high out-of-pocket costs for doctor visits and children’s vaccinations. Our Consumer Guide for Medical Bills and Debt helps Georgians understand the bills they receive, how to reduce them, and manage their debt.

For immigrant populations, gaining access to resources is often dependent on their ability to understand the information given. During the listening session, we learned that community knowledge around Federally Qualified Health Centers is limited due to language barriers.  

A Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) is a community-based organization that provides comprehensive primary care and preventive care, including health, oral, and mental health/substance abuse services to persons of all ages, regardless of their ability to pay or health insurance status. We were told by one CHW that a majority of FQHC materials distributed in immigrant communities are in English and thus not understandable by many. To eliminate this barrier, we created a flyer, in both Spanish and English, explaining and identifying FQHCs within the Buford Highway corridor. The flyer currently is being distributed to immigrant community-based organizations to be translated into other native languages and dialects. Beyond language barriers, immigrant communities are often unsure of what to ask their providers or are afraid of asking the wrong questions. When working with staff who are not culturally competent, immigrants feel uncomfortable voicing their questions/concerns. 

Georgia Watch seeks to empower community members through our Civic Advocacy, Leadership, and Engagement training which arms them with tools to engage in effective grassroots advocacy across the state. The training consists of six 60–90-minute sessions that cover various modules and equip attendees with the tools to conduct 1-2 advocacy workshops upon successful completion. Based on the feedback from our listening sessions, we added our newest training module on Immigrant Health Rights which focuses on the core rights that all people, including immigrants, have when accessing healthcare. The module provides information on specific healthcare options available for all classes of immigrants, outlines individuals’ rights when interacting with immigration enforcement officers, and explains public charge. Participants are equipped with resources and recommendations to help support and empower the immigrant community as they navigate the healthcare system. Watch the Community Catalyst & Georgia Watch Immigrant Health Rights webinar HERE. Vea el seminario web Community Catalyst y Georgia Watch Immigrant Health Rights AQUÍ.

To learn more, contact Georgia Watch about participating in the Civic Advocacy, Leadership, and Engagement training.


[1] Immigrants in Georgia. American Immigration Council. (2020, August 6). Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrants-in-georgia

[2] Smith, V., Hart, O., Roth, A. E., & Deaton, A. (2107, April 12). An Open Letter from 1,470 Economists on Immigration. New American Economy. Retrieved from https://www.newamericaneconomy.org/feature/an-open-letter-from-1470-economists-on-immigration/.

[3] Moreno Gonzales, John (March 10, 2009). “Immigrants along Buford Highway face mixed signals”. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Associated Press. Retrieved February 1, 2023.