The Challenges Immigrant Families Faced in 2020

By Janine Young, MD, FAAP and Katherine Yun, MD, MHS

The Challenges Immigrant Families Faced in 2020

how the pandemic affects immigrant children and familes

This project was supported by the CDC Centers for Excellence in Refugee Health grant 5 NU50CK000459.

The United States has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants. Immigrant families are those in which a child (or one or both parents) were born in a different country. In the U.S., one in four children live in immigrant families. Immigrants often need to learn about new languages, new foods, new ways of doing things, and a new way of living. For an immigrant family, starting a new life comes with excitement and challenges.  

Even when you know the language and culture, joining a new community means learning new things. Whenever you join a new community, you’ll face new challenges, including getting health care for your family, learning about schools, and finding places to get food, clothing, and other needs. Whether your family has recently immigrated to the U.S.—or simply moved to a new city in the U.S.—moving a family can cause a lot of excitement as well as a lot of stress. 

Added to those worries right now is COVID-19. This is a particularly hard time to be a newcomer to a community. When resettling during this time, it’s important for newcomers to decide where to get medical care, know where to get tested for COVID-19 if a family member has symptoms and how to arrange medical visits by telephone. It also helps to know the organizations that offer financial or other supports if a parent is out of work. It’s important to know that anyone in the U.S. with COVID-19 symptoms can get testing, treatment, and ongoing care for the illness because the medical costs will be paid by private health insurance, public health insurance, or Emergency Medicaid. 

In addition, newcomer families should understand that COVID-19 testing and treatment is NOT used in Public Charge determination. All families, including all immigrant families, can be tested and receive ongoing care for COVID-19;  even those without a visa, green card, or citizenship can receive care for COVID-19; it is important to keep everyone living in the U.S. as protected as possible from the COVID-19 infection and health problems from COVID-19.

Beyond helping newcomer families get COVID-19 related care, it’s also important for all families to have the supports they need to stay as healthy as possible. We recommend that everyone have a doctor for regular well-care checkups (like a pediatrician or family medicine doctor). Well-child checkups allow doctors to follow the growth and development of children, give shots to protect against vaccine-preventable illnesses, and help to manage chronic, ongoing medical problems.  

While every family is facing difficulties because of COVID-19, these difficulties may be harder to manage for families who are new to a community. If you and your family are immigrants or have recently relocated, try to find out:

  • What the stay-at-home and “social distancing” guidelines are where you live. 

  • Where to seek immediate medical care if you or a family member feel sick, including where to get tested if you have COVID-19.

  • How to make an appointment with a new doctor for check-ups and regular health care (this is important to protect the health of your entire family).

  • How best to get information about local supports, like Bright by Text and the local health department.

Also, please call 911 if you are having life-threatening health problems, including shortness of breath or difficulty waking up.

Being a newcomer isn’t easy—especially in 2020. If you are an immigrant, know an immigrant family, or are new in a community, follow these tips to get the support you’ll need to keep you, your family, and your community safe. 


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