Children are Hurting: The Health Crisis of Our Immigration Policies

By Dennis Walto, CEO, Children’s Health Fund

“How can I unenroll my son from Medicaid?” said an anxious voice on the phone.

It was the father of Carlos, one of the young patients at a clinic in New Orleans. He had called his son’s pediatrician in a panic. Medicaid has been a lifeline for Carlos to ensure he receives consistent primary healthcare that has been vital to his development. Withdrawal would potentially put his health at risk.

Children — many of whom have legal status — are being stripped of their basic human rights.

But Carlos’ father was afraid — he had heard about proposed changes to ‘public charge’ rules and didn’t want to risk his immigration case. He didn’t even know what ‘public charge’ was, but he felt forced to take this difficult step of cancelling his child’s health insurance simply because he had heard that staying in the program could result in family separation or deportation.

For several months we’ve known the child uninsured rate was increasing after years of gains, but scenarios like this one are happening more and more each day because of the humanitarian crisis of fear, poverty, and a deprivation of vital medical and mental healthcare facing poor migrant children and families in this country. This crisis is solely caused and fueled by cruel federal immigration policies that are endangering the health and wellbeing of thousands of children on U.S. soil. Overall, the cohort of completely uninsured children has increased by 400,000 in just the last two years according to a recent analysis.

Children — many of whom have legal status — are being stripped of their basic human rights.

The Department of Homeland Security has put forth a new public charge rule, that would allow the federal government to deny green cards and visas to immigrants for using public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance. While a federal judge has blocked this rule from going into effect, the mere threat of this rule has already put children, like Carlos, at risk. And for many families, this block is not changing their decisions to unenroll from Medicaid.

New to this country and without resources or options, the families our small team cares for at the clinic are often desperate by the time they reach our doors.

But as if depriving children of healthcare, food, and housing is not enough, the Administration also wants to cage immigrant children indefinitely, and without oversight. It proposed to end the Flores Settlement Agreement, removing safeguards that protect children in government detention. With this change, which also is currently blocked by a federal judge, the government could detain children indefinitely.

In many of the clinics supported by Children’s Health Fund across the country, we are seeing how this toxic and unstable environment is harming families physically and psychologically, deterring them from seeking care and services.

For example, Carlos is cared for at our New Orleans Children’s Health Project, a small clinic struggling to meet the needs of a tremendous surge of migrant children — made all the more challenging as it’s the only program in the entire state of Louisiana providing comprehensive primary care to recently-arrived children, regardless of their ability to pay. New to this country and without resources or options, the families our small team cares for at the clinic are often desperate by the time they reach our doors.

This crisis is not just about immigration, politics, or borders, but about fundamental humanism. We need to ensure children — all children — and their caregivers are treated with dignity and receive proper medical care. And whether these families are in government facilities or out in communities, our top concern should be that children on U.S. soil can grow and thrive, no matter where they were born. Children in immigrant families are one of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S. They are among our nation’s poorest, and part of the largest remaining cohort of children lacking health insurance coverage.

Medical providers have a unique view into the pain and struggles of patients and their families. Pediatricians and providers take an oath to do no harm; it is our job to protect children. The Administration’s policies directly devastate children in our care and prevent us from being able to fulfill our duty.

Through advocacy, a national network of health centers & a school-based program, we work towards a future where all children get the care & support they need

Through advocacy, a national network of health centers & a school-based program, we work towards a future where all children get the care & support they need