Undocumented Immigrants Worry Being Uninsured Will Help Officials Identify Their Status

The Affordable Care Act aims to expand access to health care by requiring all U.S. citizens and permanent residents to have health insurance. The health care reform law provides an expansion of Medicaid and state exchanges where people can buy affordable private insurance to increase the availability of coverage, but the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are barred from these programs.

As a result, some immigrants without legal status worry they will be easier to identify as undocumented because they are uninsured. “While we do not collect information about the immigration status of our patients, the fact that they will be uninsured could be taken as ‘code’ for also being undocumented,” Alicia Wilson, executive director of La Clinica in Washington, DC, told Reuters. Even the U.S.-born children of immigrants can be vulnerable:

According to the Urban Institute, nearly 1 in 10 U.S. families with children are of “mixed status,” with at least one parent who is undocumented and one child who is a citizen.

These children are likely to be eligible for insurance, including the government-sponsored Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But many remain out of the system because of their parents’ dread that the undocumented spouse will be identified and deported, since U.S. immigration authorities, part of the Department of Homeland Security, must verify a child’s residency status. […]

According to [National Council of La Raza’s Jennifer] Ng’andu, 8 percent of children from families where both parents are U.S. citizens don’t have insurance, compared with 25 percent in households where children live with at least one undocumented parent.

Despite legal protections allowing undocumented immigrants to receive care at hospitals without endangering their status, one single mother from Mexico City who is undocumented said she fears that she will be asked about her immigration status at the hospital “and am always worried that the police will intervene, that my children will be taken away from me.”