Home > Recent Post > Arguing for Alliances: Why Business and Religious Leaders Should Promote Migrant Health Care – Ryan I. Logan

Arguing for Alliances: Why Business and Religious Leaders Should Promote Migrant Health Care – Ryan I. Logan

Ryan I. Logan

In June 2013, from a top-floor meeting room at the Indianapolis headquarters of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, I witnessed an unusual alliance of business leaders and religious leaders who joined to pledge their public support for the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744). In front of reporters, these leaders expressed their support for comprehensive immigration reform to state politicians, the general public, and the grassroots political organization called the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN). What would it take to develop a similarly powerful alliance between religious and business leaders advocating for the provision of adequate and affordable health care for undocumented migrants?

Logan PhotoMembers of the grassroots political organization IndyCAN, along with religious leaders of Catholic and Protestant denominations, meet with Congresswoman Susan Brooks (seated at table, left side) at a prayer vigil to request her public support for immigration reform. Photo by Ryan I. Logan.

At the June 2013 meeting promoting comprehensive immigration reform, several prominent businesses came out in support of immigration reform in addition to Eli Lilly and Company, including Indiana Farm Bureau Inc., the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and Indiana Dairy Producers. Religious support came from across denominations and faiths including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim congregations. Prominent religious leaders included Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and Bishop William Gafkjen of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

The event at Eli Lilly demonstrated a cross-denominational and cross-sector alliance aimed at advocating for the political needs of undocumented migrants. This alliance, largely the work of IndyCAN, has been a central force in bringing together the community of Indianapolis with business, religious, and political leaders. IndyCAN uses messages such as “Hoosier families” and “together, we are stronger” as a means of being inclusive of undocumented migrants and their families. The impact of this activism has been apparent in several large demonstrations for comprehensive immigration reform – including at least one event that had over 800 people in attendance. IndyCAN attempts to appeal to the religious backgrounds and moral consciousness of politicians by emphasizing a shared religious faith as well as personal testimonials of migrants who have experienced the loss of family members through deportation.

As crucial allies for overarching systemic change in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, it is also prudent for business and religious leaders to advocate for the health of their migrant employees and parishioners. Through my year of volunteering with IndyCAN, I witnessed how one of their central facets, putting an emphasis on forging relationships between businesses, community members, religious leaders, and politicians, came to the forefront during the push for comprehensive immigration reform. This emphasis served as a means to connect these actors and press for the need to focus on the social justice needs of this marginalized community. As a volunteer, I typically formed part of the media team and I helped with distributing and translating press releases as well as contacting the local news to cover IndyCAN events. IndyCAN’s strategy of forging solidarity between these various groups was a prominent focus for the local news and serves to show the potential impact on creating policy change through face-to-face interactions. Thus, these leaders, along with the support of grassroots organizations, have the potential to influence policy and should advocate for the health of their migrant employees and parishioners.

Health care access is a pressing need for these migrants due to lack of insurance, low income, and other restrictions in obtaining clinical services (Heyman et al. 2009, Schor 2006, Wallace et al. 2012). Undocumented migrants in Indiana, as in most other states, are barred from accessing health care except on an emergency basis or for pregnancy-related care. Although there are occasional free clinics offering care to the uninsured, these are sporadic and only act as a band-aid to address larger health issues.

Aside from inaccessible health care, state-level policies further marginalize undocumented migrants in Indiana. For example, HB1402, passed in 2011, bars undocumented migrants from receiving in-state tuition at public universities. Additionally, Indiana was one of several states that attempted to pass a copycat version of Arizona’s infamous SB1070.

As comprehensive immigration reform remains stalled, business and religious leaders should consider options for improving the health of undocumented migrants. Doing so would help to provide mutually beneficial results for all parties involved. The combined cost of fatal and nonfatal injuries in the United States is estimated at $250 billion, and Latino workers experience higher rates of occupational injury than non-Latino workers (Flynn and Eggerth 2014). For businesses, promoting the health of undocumented migrant employees can directly affect productivity and cost. Aside from the precarious position undocumented migrants experience when they face injury or illness, the loss of days due to illness or injury can cost employers in terms of lost productivity and profits. In Indiana, employers may be held responsible to pay health care costs associated with injuries sustained by employees, regardless of legal status. For all of these reasons, it would be prudent for employers to provide safer working conditions in order to promote their migrant employees’ health and decrease incidence of injury even as they advance their business interests.

Employers should also consider alternatives to providing health care such as providing health insurance to migrant workers. According to a report issued by the Indiana Office and Management and Budget in June 2012, the health care and public assistance costs for “illegal aliens” in the state of Indiana totaled almost $8 million in 2011 (IOMB 2012). Clearly, a cost-effective means of providing accessible health care for undocumented migrants is an urgent need.

At the same time, churches must continue to remain active in advocating for the needs of their parishioners from both a political and health standpoint. As religious leaders emphasize a moral discourse surrounding the need for comprehensive immigration reform, they must recognize that the health of their undocumented migrant parishioners is a central facet of their wellbeing and ability to provide for themselves and their families. Moreover, religion remains an important as aspect in the lives of many migrants. Many Catholic churches with declining populations have seen revitalizing numbers with an influx of Mexican and other Latino migrant parishioners. This is certainly the case in several Catholic churches in Indianapolis, which have seen the number of Latino migrant parishioners increase over the past decade and introduced Spanish and bilingual masses (Logan 2015). As religious leaders continue to care for the spiritual needs of their migrant parishioners, the necessity of accessible health care can and should be reframed as a moral necessity. As Archbishop Tobin of the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis stated at a demonstration for immigration reform, “I’m the grandson of immigrants and I love my grandparents and I believe if we fail to respond the neediest today, then on the Day of Judgment, it won’t be them who condemn us. It will be our grandparents.”

Just as these religious leaders and business leaders offered a public display of their support during the immigration reform throughout the summer of 2013, they should also take an active role in advocating for the health of their migrant employees and parishioners. This kind of collaboration among grassroots activists, business leaders, and religious prelates – not just in Indiana, but throughout the United States – could pressure politicians to recognize how political designations directly affect wellbeing. The road to comprehensive immigration reform may not be won, but business and religious leaders who see its benefits ought to pay more careful attention to health, which is intimately tied to political status.

Since 2013, business and religious leaders in Indiana have continued advocating for immigrants and comprehensive reform. In July 2014, for instance, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce continued to push politicians on the issue of immigration reform while various business organizations put on events to highlight this need. Last November, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders called on Governor Mike Pence to drop his lawsuit against President Obama’s executive order on immigration. New legislative developments include SB345, introduced in February, which seeks to grant in-state tuition to undocumented minors fitting certain requirements. As business and religious leaders advance these issues, they should reignite their alliance in support of immigration reform, but foreground the issue of health care for undocumented migrants. A powerful alliance like this one has the potential to bring more attention to undocumented migrants’ plight and strengthen the fight to meet their health needs, which is in everyone’s collective best interest.

Ryan I. Logan, MA is a dual degree student at the University of South Florida earning his PhD in applied anthropology on the medical anthropology track. He is also pursuing his master’s in public health in the Department of Health Policy and Management. His current research focuses on undocumented Latino migrants, policy, health disparities, migrant farmworker access to care, and the overall clinical experience.


Flynn, Michael A. and Donald E. Eggerth. 2014 Occupational Health Research with Immigrant Workers. In Migration and Health: A Research Methods Handbook. Schenker, Mark B.; Castañeda, Xóchitl; and Alfonso Rodriguez-Lainz, eds. Pp. 377-395. Oakland: University of California Press.

Heyman, Josiah McC.; Nuñéz-Mchiri, Guillermina Gina; and Victor Talavera. 2009 “Healthcare Access and Barriers for Unauthorized Immigrants in El Paso County, Texas,” Family and Community Health 32(1):4-21.

Indiana Office of Management and Budget (IOMB). 2012 Calculation of the Estimated Costs of Illegal Aliens in the State of Indiana. Report for the 2011 Indiana General Assembly.

Logan, Ryan I. 2015 “Transcending Differences and Persuading Through Faith: The Importance of Religion in Grassroots Organizing,” Practicing Anthropology 37(1):15-19.

Schor, Glenn. 2007 Low Wage Injured Workers and Access to Clinical Care: A Policy Analysis, 2004-2006. Policy Analysis. The California Wellness Foundation, for UCSF Community Occupational Health Project.

Wallace, Stephen P.; Torres, Jaqueline; Sadegh-Nobari, Tabashir; Pourat, Nadereh; and E. Richard Brown. 2012 Undocumented Immigrants and Health Care Reform. Final Report to the Commonwealth Fund. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

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