UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT Exclusion From Healthcare MUST Change

November 7, 2020
By Jackeline Jimenez-Ayala

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 210,000 people in the United States alone. Contractions of the illness have surpassed the 7-million mark. At this point, a “simple” cough or fever is enough to raise concern. However, why is it that undocumented men and women with clear indications of the illness, some of whom need more than Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter remedies, fear the prospect of medical attention unless it is provided by community clinics and hospital outpatient departments? Either they are uninsured and cannot afford treatment, or they are unaware of the limited services that are available to them.

The community’s exclusion from a decent, humane quality of life is the product of a long history of their scapegoating and victimization. The public charge narrative is ignorant of the billions the undocumented pay in taxes. According to the educational fund America’s Voice, in 2017, they contributed $27.2 billion to the funding of government-provided goods and services, most of which they are ineligible for due to their immigration status. This includes unemployment benefits and Medicaid. Low education rates and language barriers aggravate the experience.

To address the pressing public health contingency, the federal government has approved stimulus bills and the closure of the border. The most recent federal legislation is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act(CARES ACT). This provides much-needed economic relief to American workers, their families, and small-business owners. And, not surprisingly, one of the criteria that must be met to be eligible is that the potential recipient has a social security number.

The reasoning behind these government responses is suggestive of effective policy-making. The economy has taken a fall and positive cases of the virus cannot be detected by officers supervising border entries as swiftly as is in the case of illicit substances or unauthorized entrance attempts.

(Photo by LA Times/Hector Amezcua)

As reported by Axios, the number of cases for the most novel strain of coronavirus is on the rise in twenty-two states. This trend cannot be blamed on any one specific occurrence, but it highlights how the government is not directly tackling the issue at hand and the governed are not cooperating. Border closures, for example, only contain the infection. This type of government decision does nothing to dampen the viral situation within such borders. Moreover, it should not come as a surprise that immigrants are not immune. Nevertheless, they are not allowed the resources to seek proper medical attention, and years of fearing debt and deportation discourage members of the community from asking for such information. They are not given the opportunity to do the one thing all Americans are asked to do to fight back: protect themselves and those in their midst. It is inconceivable to believe that providing for one segment of society will eradicate a common danger that is blind to race, age, and background.

If it hopes to one day adopt a new, conceivable normal, the federal government of this nation must reconsider their immigration scare tactic of depriving tax-paying families of essential goods and services. Doing so, as the JAMA Network puts it, “makes financial sense.” The undocumented can receive urgent care medical attention through the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and Emergency Medicaid. These provide limited access to health security as it fails to address illnesses that require proper treatment that emergency visits cannot provide. Increasing accessibility to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment would reduce costs over time for the individual and the government. As in the current state of the nation, it would have the potential to dampen the spread of communicable conditions.

A common argument against the proposal is that it would incentivize migration. But, since when is treating the sick an incentive? Never mind those that pay into the system. Why is health a privilege, often dependent on citizenship? What’s more, the immigration crisis is not fueled by the sole prospect of healthcare.

The undocumented community may not be “Americans” on paper, but they live in the country and they are susceptible to all that befalls it. It is time they are treated as what they are: working people who sought a future. Even those convicted in criminal trials are judged fairly.

Edited by Bella Perreira