Context Health Communication

Administration threatens legal immigrant use of social service benefits, I throw fit

Kaiser Health News reports that the Department of Homeland Security will find strongly unfavorable the use of any publicly available benefits by legal immigrants (holders of permanent resident status often called “green cards,” refugee status, students visas, and the like).

These documents need periodic renewal. This is a threat to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who live and work and raise kids in our country. The threat amounts to: when you come up for renewal, you better hope you haven’t been using housing vouchers to put roofs over heads or WIC to feed babies or Uncle Sam is going to give you a big rejected stamp on your application.

As a community health worker, as far back as the early 2000s, I promised the mothers and fathers of the children I was charged with enrolling in school that they would not “get in trouble” for signing up for Medicaid, for food stamps, for WIC. While parents worked long legal days hanging turkeys bound by their feet on the killing line for Cargill or Purdue, I took their Medicaid-insured children to dental appointments where abscesses were narrowly averted. I showed them how to use WIC to buy formula, filled with the nutrients that babies need to grow, and throw out the cheaper formula substitute of dried milk powder.

All of this was done on the promise that the government would not come and take their legal status away over having used social services to nourish and heal and shelter their children.

Anyone in health care knows how stripping a large segment of the population of relative food and health security ends up: with sicker patients needing more, more invasive, and more expensive care to bring them back to health. If indeed back to health is possible. My frustration with disregard for basic public health principles is old news, though.

What lodges is my gut today is the thought of choosing between feeding and vaccinating your child, chancing that your residency will be revoked, thereby separating you from your US born baby forever, or staying together to watch them endure sickness and hunger.




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