Illinois immigrant leaders launch first-in-nation IMMIGRANT HEALTH ACADEMY

RIVERSIDE, IL -- Today the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, along with community, legal, and philanthropic partners, launched the first-in-the-nation Immigrant Health Academy, and released the accompanying landscape report “Overcoming Barriers and Empowering Communities: The Immigrant Health Academy.” (Read the full report at www.icirr.org/theacademy)


The Immigrant Health Academy will develop immigrant community leaders, with a focus on suburban Cook, Will, DuPage and Lake Counties, through education regarding their healthcare rights to shift misconceptions about healthcare access and coverage in immigrant communities.


“We hear stories from partner organizations every day about community members who face barriers to accessing health coverage, often because people lack current immigration status,” said Luvia Quiñones, Senior Director of Health Policy at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “These personal experiences that our members face are the reason why our coalition has advocated and organized to increase health coverage across the board, regardless of immigration status. However, we know that over 180,000 uninsured undocumented still have no pathway for coverage and many more are not aware of health services that are available to them. The Immigrant Health Academy seeks to address these barriers and gaps.”


The Immigrant Health Academy, a first-of-its-kind two-year pilot project supported by the Healthy Communities Foundation, will develop local leaders to empower other immigrants in suburban areas with significant immigrant populations that lack access to quality health resources. The project will also aim to shift the healthcare narrative in the immigrant community and expand healthcare access through advocacy efforts in the Chicagoland region.


“The Immigrant Health Academy exemplifies what a community-defined solution to health access issues can look like,” said Maria Pesqueira, President of Healthy Communities Foundation, which hosted today’s launch event at their office in Riverside, Illinois. “We are proud to support the Academy on its journey to break down barriers to health access for immigrants in the western suburbs of Chicago.”


The Academy’s first cohort of community partners includes Arab American Family Services, Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, and Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project. Legal Council for Health Justice, and Shriver Center on Poverty Law are the Academy’s legal partners.


The accompanying landscape report, co-authored by ICIRR and the Center for Community Health Equity at DePaul University, can be downloaded at www.icirr.org/theacademy.


Statements from community and legal partners:

“For far too long, our undocumented sisters and brother have been left in the dark with no support, resources, or assistance to life-saving procedures and health access due to the lack of education when it comes to their health rights,” said Dulce Ortiz, Executive Director of Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, based in Round Lake, IL. “The Immigrant Health Academy is a game changer that will empower our immigrant families by ensuring they are educated about the healthcare system and about their health rights. Mano a Mano’s mission is to empower our immigrant families and we couldn’t be more proud to be part of the Immigrant Health Academy.”


"Healthcare access has always been one of the issues that we have prioritized, but during the pandemic it was evident that we urgently needed to expand our work,” said Laura Bohorquez, Health Justice Manager at Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, based in Bolingbrook, IL. “We chose to be a part of the Academy because we believe in the power of the people to get informed and stand up for their rights, individually and as a community. The Academy will guide our community to not only be more informed about their rights in healthcare, but also be empowered to stand up for themselves when those rights aren't met."


"Mujeres advocates for equal access to healthcare,” said Bertha Morin, Director of Community Engagement and Mobilization at Mujeres Latinas en Acción, based in Chicago and serving a wide population that extends into the suburbs. “Participating in the Academy will deepen the capacity of Mujeres’ community leaders and promotoras in west suburban Cook County on immigrant health rights and build power to push for policies that improve health outcomes for Latina and immigrant communities.”


“AAFS truly believes that the Academy is aligned with our mission and vision,” said Khaled Humaiden, caseworker at Arab American Family Services, based in Bridgeview, IL. “This program is important for uplifting and empowering our communities in assisting them to navigate through the challenging systems. Many of our immigrant communities and neighbors cannot access proper healthcare due to fear of public charge, immigration status, and the complexity of the healthcare system. Many immigrants were hesitant to seek care for COVID-19 and vaccinations due to deportation. We are involved in this community effort to build stronger and healthier generations in our communities everywhere.”


“Legal Council for Health Justice is grateful to be a part of such a visionary learning collaborative and to use our legal expertise in a new and exciting way,” said Carrie Chapman, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at Legal Council for Health Justice. “We are thrilled with this chance to put the power of the law directly into community hands where it belongs.”


“The Shriver Center on Poverty Law partners with community organizations to ensure that all immigrants have meaningful access to affordable, comprehensive, culturally competent health coverage,” said Andrea Kovach, Senior Attorney, Healthcare Justice at Shriver Center for Poverty Law. “We are excited and humbled to be part of the team that developed and launched the Immigrant Health Academy. These leaders will share and build power throughout their community to bend the arc towards health justice for all. The Shriver Center will continue to advocate for comprehensive and affordable health coverage for all Illinoisans.”