Monday, November 16, 2009

Immigration & Health Care: Where reality bumps up against a stereotype

This article form today's Washington Post highlights some of the grim realities in the health care and immigration debates. In one sense, it would be "fair" to say that undocumented immigrants should not be able to received state funded health care. After all, the argument goes, why should they reap the benefits of being a legal member of society?

Let's put aside the obvious counter arguments for a moment, and consider the following types of undocumented immigrants. These are types based on people I have met:

Joel--25 years old and living in the U.S. for 4 years. He came to Pennsylvania when the rest of his family moved north. Like his mother, brother and sisters, he "waited in line" for 8 years for his papers, but unfortunately turned 21 before the U.S. government could get his family's immigration applications finalized. It did not matter that Joel had tried to do the process legally, he turned 21 and the law is clear that he cannot receive residency under his parents.

Cloe--11 years old. She was born two years before her father's application for her mother and sisters was finalized. The staff at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico told her parents that her application would not be processed with the rest of her family, and that she would have to wait an additional 8-10 years "in line." It didn't matter that her family's options were to live in the U.S. without her or live apart from her father while he worked in the U.S. So her family did what I think most families would do--they brought Cloe to the U.S. as an undocumented resident to wait out the 10 year period, which as stretched to 14 years.

Marta--23 years old and mother of Maria, 18 months. Marta crossed the border illegally 2 years ago to join her husband, who is also undocumented. She realized that she didn't want to live in Mexico and raise her daughter alone, so she joined her husband (who is a legal resident of the U.S.) and gave birth to her daughter who is a U.S. citizen.

In each of these cases, the "illegal alien" is not a criminal, deviant, or even a threat. They are all contributing to a productive life in the U.S., and each has been caught in a tangle of the mess that is our immigration system. Does it make sense to prohibit these people from getting health care when they need it? I don't think so.

In fact, these stories point to the fact that even when people do have access to a path to entering the U.S. with authorization, the system is so convoluted and rule-bound that it defies logic.

When doing research with predominately white Americans on issues of immigration, those who oppose it have managed to demonize the undocumented. They've had a lot of help form the "Help Save" movement, to be sure, but they're not thinking of immigrants as people. When we consider moving forward on immigrant or health care, the people should be the first consideration, not their status.
in reference to: Immigration looms as sticking point in health-care legislation - (view on Google Sidewiki)

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