Robert Kennedy once said, “Our attitude toward immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as their talent and energy allow. Neither race nor creed nor place of birth should affect their chances.”
As our nation continues to see no activity on immigration reform, we also see the lives of countless families on hold. While we applaud the Obama administration’s executive actions, we also wait on a divided Supreme Court to determine the fate of the DACA expansion, a change to the current program that will offer protection to thousands more people living in the US who were brought here as children, and DAPA, a new program providing protection from deportation and work authorization for certain undocumented parents with US citizen or lawful permanent resident children.
All the while, our state of California continues its work to reflect the American ideal by moving forward numerous efforts to demonstrate support of the immigrant community, such as providing driver’s licenses, expanding financial aid for college, and opening doors to over 40 professions. We recognize that immigrants are part of the fabric of our society and their well-being is directly linked to our state’s well-being today and in the future.
Nowhere is California’s commitment to the immigrant community and its future more clear than in the recent measure to expand health coverage to undocumented children. On May 16, Medi-Cal, the health insurance program for lower-income Californians, will expand to include all income-eligible undocumented children and youth. For the first time, every child in California will have access to quality health coverage and care, no matter where they were born. Full-scope Medi-Cal coverage will open the door to free preventive services, like dental care, vision exams, and mental health services. With access to the care they need to be healthy, children are on a trajectory to be better prepared for school and life. Providing children with quality health coverage helps them become healthy and productive adults and has lasting economic benefits.
As the state with the largest immigrant population to take this historic step for children, people across California are celebrating this incredible victory for children. Advocates are working with the State to make sure the implementation is as seamless as possible. Community groups are spreading the word to families about this new opportunity. Enrollers are gearing up to connect children to coverage.
Yet, as we celebrate this important victory, we must also recognize that our work is not complete. If we want every child to have a bright future, we must continue California’s commitment to immigrant integration and make sure every member of the family can have the security health insurance provides. Despite all of the recent progress in reforming health care, about 1.5 million Californians remain locked out of coverage due to their immigration status. A number of California counties provide some care to undocumented adults through their safety-net systems, but many do not. Low-income undocumented immigrants may enroll in emergency Medi-Cal but, in doing so, may not have access to critical preventive care. Many visit community health centers for important health services because these centers provide care regardless of ability to pay, insurance status, or immigration status.
For the sake of our children, families, and communities, it is time to allow higher-income undocumented immigrants to purchase coverage through Covered California and expand full-scope Medi-Cal to lower-income undocumented adults. By offering every member of the family, including parents, an opportunity for coverage, children are more likely to be enrolled, creating what research has termed a “welcome mat” effect for children. Children are better served and families have more peace of mind when every member of the family has health coverage.
Making opportunities for health coverage available goes beyond an insurance card for families. Children with undocumented parents and family members already live with constant anxiety, fearing their loved ones could be deported at any time. These fears can have severe consequences for children’s development and their ability to thrive. With the additional stress of knowing a loved one is just an accident away from a lifetime of financial hurt, the anxiety only worsens. Health coverage is one more tool to help families feel not only more financially secure but also protected and better able to take care of their children.
Children need their parents, family members, and loved ones to be healthy, just as California needs all members of our communities to be healthy to have a prosperous future. As we work to enroll newly eligible children into health coverage, we must also do more to make sure every member of the family can enroll and have the security health insurance provides. Providing coverage to all Californians reaffirms our commitment to and faith in the American ideal.
Mayra E. Alvarez is President of The Children’s Partnership.