Originally published on 5/10/13.
Like most moms, Mother’s Day for me is an opportunity to celebrate with my children and family, and reflect upon how deeply I cherish motherhood. While supporting our children as they grow and adapt to the world is joyful, we moms face so many challenges along the way — the pain of watching our child fall off a bike, face hurtful words from a friend, or experience disappointment at a bad grade. These are all normal parts of childhood, and as tough as they are, these difficulties also make our children stronger and more resilient.
But there are some things moms shouldn’t have to worry about. Moms shouldn’t have to worry that they have to choose between paying the rent and keeping their families healthy, between food and a trip to the doctor.
But these are just the types of impossible situations many immigrant mothers find themselves in every day. As a country, a few years ago, we recognized that all individuals should have access to quality and affordable health care, for themselves and their families. We recognized that mothers shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table or taking a sick child to the doctor. As a result, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA)and most residents of the United States from children to adults to seniors will have access to high quality, affordable health care beginning in 2014.
But this isn’t the case for undocumented immigrants, even if they’ve lived and worked in this country for years. While about two out of five undocumented Californians do have health care already, largely through their employers, many of the rest of these aspiring citizens are the least likely to have employer-sponsored coverage and will be ineligible for other types of coverage under the ACA. As the debate around immigration reform advances, we have an opportunity to ensure a more inclusive health care system. The Senate will be considering amendments to their initial immigration reform proposal in the weeks to come, and they should ensure pregnant women and children on the pathway to citizenship have access to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and other available coverage. All immigrants on the pathway to citizenship, which could potentially take a decade or more, should be eligible for Medicaid and other programs, perhaps with a waiting period similar to other immigrants if necessary.
But this is not just a federal issue. States that have been leaders in integrating immigrant communities and implementing the Affordable Care Act, such as California, also have a critical role to play in extending health care to new Americans. In California, legislative leaders are coalescing around a proposal to ensure existing county services remain available for the uninsured after January 2014, about a third of whom will be undocumented. California can and must lead the way in extending health access to uphold our values of equal treatment of all individuals and children; to ensure an efficient and cost-effective health system that benefits us all; and to strengthen the integration of immigrant communities who benefit our state today and will be on the pathway to citizenship tomorrow.
This is a critical moment in deciding how we treat aspiring Americans in the decades to come. The fact is, there is no “line to get in” for the vast majority of undocumented Americans, many of whom have been here longer than my own children have been alive. Immigration reform is our first opportunity in a generation to create a process for longtime residents of our country to become citizens. But this is also the moment to ensure we don’t have unequal treatment of communities in our health care system. Our country and states have the chance to demonstrate leadership by upholding our American values of equality and fairness.
Because like all of us, immigrant moms have a lot of things to worry about. Health care shouldn’t be one of them.
Reshma Shamasunder has served as Director of the California Immigrant Policy Center since 2003. Under Reshma’s leadership, CIPC has helped to advance several successful campaigns at the state level, including preserving important health and human service programs, supporting survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence, stalling abusive employment verification practices, and furthering important immigrant integration efforts.
Cross-posted with permission from the Huffington Post