So What If You're Born In The U.S.A.?
November 3, 2006 - 12:12pm ET
You don't have to be a doctor to know that the first year of a baby's life, indeed the first weeks, are critical for its healthy development. That's why the government has historically taken on the responsibility of subsidizing health care for infants of low-income mothers, regardless of citizenship status. Not anymore. Today's newspapers report that babies are the newest pawn in the right-wing's campaign to punish undocumented immigrants. As a result of a new policy pushed by two pro-life Republicans, babies born born to undocumented immigrants will be denied health care.
Reps. Charlie Norwood and Nathan Deal, both considered staunch "pro-lifers", pushed through a bill now taking effect that requires anyone who uses Medicaid to show proof of citizenship. This applies to mothers of newborns, who must now apply for Medicaid on behalf of their babies. This, despite the fact that, according to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, any person born on U.S. soil is automatically granted citizenship.
The result is that babies won't get the care that is so important in the early weeks of infancy.
How can lawmakers who earn high marks from anti-abortion groups reconcile this heartless policy with their alleged concern for "life"? As has been the case with such issues as mercury poisoning of pregnant mothers and funding for programs that prevent infant mortality, conservative Republicans often vigorously oppose policies shown to promote healthy babies when there are political points to be scored with the GOP base. If you're a fetus, they compete with each other to show their concern for your health, but watch out: once you're out of the womb, your life and welfare don't have the same political currency. Especially when matched against illegal immigration.
Because of the new policy, newborn infants, some of whom require immediate post-delivery care for illnesses detected directly after birth, will be denied simply because they are born to an undocumented immigrant. The Bush administration and Norwood duplicitously claim that babies can still get care under this policy. Norwood's spokesman told The New York Times that "with newborns, there should be no problem. All you have to do is provide a birth certificate or hospital records verifying birth."
No, Charlie, It's quite a problem.
Out of fears they'll be deported—not irrational given the fiercely anti-"illegal" rhetoric dominating this year's immigration debate—mothers who are undocumented may forego applying for Medicaid. Even if they do apply for Medicaid, there's a good chance the baby will suffer from a significant gap in treatment because the application process takes so long—"weeks or months" according to a Tennessee Medicaid administrator interviewed by the Times .
Doctors' groups are up in arms about the new policy. American Academy of Pediatrics President Jay Berkelhamer told the Times the new policy "punishes babies" and "will cost the health care system more in the long run" because the children could go without immunizations, preventive care and other treatments that are necessary in the first year of life.
These risks and long-term costs matter little compared to the alleged drain on the Medicaid system that lawmakers like Norwood and Deal claim undocumented immigrants create due to their "fraudulent benefits claims." Yet, a 2005 article countered the argument that undocumented immigrants strain public services because they don't pay taxes. To the contrary, the article explained how undocumented immigrants contribute billions annually through payroll taxes.
But Norwood is known for dreaming up laws that respond to nonexistent problems. After all, he's the same guy who introduced the bill responding to the fictitious problem of voter fraud : the Voter ID law.
Help us spread the word about these important stories...
Email to a friend
Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future