After less than eight months in office, President Barack Obama’s administration is under serious scrutiny by some leading immigrant advocates.
As the legislative drive for health care insurance reform picks up steam, pro-immigrant groups are increasingly alarmed by proposals that target both documented and undocumented resident of the US.
In a telephonic press conference September 16, Latino rights, religious and political leaders blasted policy ideas circulating around the White House and Capitol Hill as not only an attack on the immigrant community but a threat to public health as well.
“We’ve been deeply disturbed by developments in the health care debate and the treatment of immigrants in it,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the Washington, D.C-based Americas Voice immigrant advocacy organization.
Sharry criticized Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana), President Obama and Democrats for bending over backwards to accommodate political opponents, especially Republicans like shouting South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, who “demonize immigrants.”
Sharry and other pro-immigrant leaders said they were deeply concerned by measures unveiled in the Senate Finance Committee and in other quarters on Capitol Hill that would exclude immigrants from participating in an insurance exchange even with their own money, prevent children of undocumented residents from getting coverage, probe the residency status of emergency room patients, and make verification of residency status an expanded, cumbersome process for both citizens and non-citizens alike.
According to Eric Rodriguez, vice-president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) an estimated 7 of 28 million legal immigrants do not have health insurance.
Under the plan released by Senator Baucus today, undocumented immigrants, who will be virtually barred from obtaining any kind of health insurance at all, would face fines of $950 and upwards if they managed to obtain any sort of emergency treatment.
US Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) voiced dismay that the White House was considering keeping many immigrants out of the insurance exchange, especially after Gutierrez and other members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus agreed that no public monies or tax credits could be used by undocumented residents in a new health insurance reform scheme.
Gutierrez contended that prohibiting undocumented residents from being in the exchange even with their own cash could result in masses of people losing their health insurance coverage.
“What about millions of undocumented workers who have health care through their employers?” Gutierrez asked. “Are they going to lose their benefits?”
“Health care policies should not be dictated by a heckler,” said NCLR President Janet Murguia, in a separate statement also made on September 16. Despite some improvements in the plan announced by Sen. Baucus, Murguia warned that the legislation coming out of the Senate Finance Committee had the potential to “drive up costs, leave people uncovered and threaten public health.”
Kevin Appleby, director of migrant policy for the US Catholic Conference of Bishops, said that the Church, one of the largest health care providers in the country, often provides treatment to immigrants. The migrant advocate characterized the denial of health care to sick people as a “fool-hardy” and “mean-spirited” policy. Asserting that the Obama Administration had “capitulated” to anti-immigrant forces, Appleby said that elected officials had sacrificed public health care on the altar on
Rev. Luis Cortes, president of Esperanza USA, said that it wasn’t too long ago when widespread concern surfaced about the H1N1 virus, but that current proposals on the table would jeopardize people in dire need of health care.
Both political parties, Cortes contended, are “running the fastest to see who is the harshest.” Judging looming actions by Congress and the White House, as “morally punishable by Christian scripture,” Cortes said that the political price could be high for Democrats as well as Republicans. Adding that the immigrant community was once hopeful of the Democrats, Cortes said that local elections would have to be examined “one-by-one” in the future.
Numerous analysts consider New American voters, immigrants and their children, a key voting bloc that swept the Democrats into the White House and Congress last year. Many pro-immigrant groups are growing increasingly frustrated by the pace of immigration reform promised by presidential candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign.
Speaking to reporters, Rep. Gutierrez recalled how the Latino community was inspired by Obama’ candidacy, and took to heart the fellow Illinois Democrat’s pledge to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and on to the path of legalization. “That’s the President I voted for, not the one who says you cannot have health care,” Gutierrez said.
The longtime Latino political leader and other participants of the September 16 press conference called for the end of “wedge” politics and the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
Additional sources. NCLR, September 16, 2009. Press statement. CNN September 16, 2009.