Here’s how we protect the health and safety of undocumented immigrants in 2021
What good is the right to reproductive health care if you cannot access it? With the recent enactment of the unconstitutional abortion ban in Texas and the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling regarding an unconstitutional ban in Mississippi, it’s a question we find ourselves asking more and more frequently.
But for millions of immigrants, it’s more than a hypothetical. Lack of access to the most fundamental rights, including health care, is the norm. We know that the barriers immigrant communities face in accessing health care are rooted in discrimination, and simply offering health care without addressing these barriers will not increase access in our communities. When it comes to abortion and reproductive health care, which is already fraught with medically unnecessary barriers, the problem is magnified.
For instance, did you know that undocumented immigrants are blocked from obtaining health care coverage through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the ACA marketplace by U.S. federal law? This, coupled with fear of deportation, lack of language accessibility, and multigenerational and mixed-status living arrangements, makes it abundantly clear that undocumented immigrants, the very same people who have always ensured this country runs smoothly including working through a global pandemic, unprecedented heat, and increasingly devastating fire seasons to pick produce that those who had the privilege of staying home wouldn’t think twice about where their food comes from, are being exploited for their labor with little care for their health and well-being. That is unacceptable.
Nevada’s economic recovery will largely depend on our essential immigrant workers. They are critical to stabilizing our state’s workforce, where one in four workers are of immigrant background. On the national level, we know that providing a pathway to citizenship could boost this country’s GDP by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Some states, Nevada included, have made advancements, though admittedly inaccessible at first, that could benefit immigrants in the long run, such as the passage of a public insurance option. Building on this step to increase access to health care at the state level, we must take action to make a meaningful permanent change for immigrants.
The consequences of inaction are dire. As a result of lack of citizenship, undocumented immigrants are less likely to access preventive health care and face poorer health outcomes. In the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, a state where approximately 1.65 million undocumented immigrants reside, about one-third of the population lives under the federal poverty line, making it impossible for people to travel out of state to seek care.
That’s particularly troubling when you consider that Texas is currently leading the nation in effectively outlawing abortion care, meaning patients would have to travel to access care furthering the inequities in health outcomes and access to care we strive to improve.
Additionally, the lack of health care coverage among undocumented women prevents consistent use of contraceptives, which is key to preventing unintended pregnancy. And the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated existing inequities. Despite the integral role immigrants have played throughout the pandemic serving as frontline essential workers putting food on American tables and keeping entire industries like the hospitality industry in Las Vegas afloat in times of uncertainty with no hazard pay or worker protections, there was never any congressional relief for our undocumented neighbors.
Every single person residing in the U.S. has a fundamental right to health care, regardless of immigration status. The solution to the barriers keeping many from accessing life-saving care is a permanent policy that creates a pathway to citizenship and investments in health care. Soon, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote to approve a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans through budget reconciliation. It is up to us to ensure our elected officials deliver on their promise to bring permanent relief to our families.
You can take action by joining local activists and groups like the UndocuCouncil, a subcommittee of directly impacted leaders within the Nevada Immigrant Coalition, and by calling your members of Congress to ask them to vote for citizenship for DACA, TPS, essential workers, and farmworkers in the budget reconciliation. All people should have access to quality, affordable health care — regardless of income, insurance, or immigration status.