Commentary: Immigrants, facing multiple hardships, deserve access to health care
This June is the fourth annual Immigration Heritage month, which highlights contributions that immigrants have made — and continue to make — in America. It’s a time to celebrate our diversity, as well as to show support for our immigrant colleagues, neighbors and friends.
I am a proud daughter of immigrants who came to the United States to work hard for a better quality of life and the American dream. Although they struggled to make ends meet and did whatever they could to provide my sister and I with food, a warm home and an education, as a child I never realized the toils.
My dad would take us on car rides to collect cardboard from dumpsters. He made it seem that we were playing a game when the reality was that he was trying to earn extra income by selling the cardboard to our local recycling center.
As an adult, I learned that my parents couldn’t afford insurance. They often went without care and I remember getting up before the sun rose with my mother and baby sister to beat the long lines at the local clinics so that my sister and I could get our immunizations. Even when we would arrive before the clinic opened, we’d often wait for hours.
Immigrants continue to face hardships that come with lack of access to affordable health insurance and things will only get worse with the proposed American Health Care Act. By removing expanded Medicaid, the AHCA removes care from the poorest, most vulnerable people.
To make matters worse, with the administration’s aggressive approach to immigration, many fear risk of deportation if they seek assistance so they simply stop getting the care they need. When communities who already face barriers in accessing care are driven further into the shadows, they will forgo care to preserve their own safety and economic security for their families.
In California, one in six children live with an immigrant parent. When parents are taken away, children left behind face dramatically reduced incomes, housing and food insecurity, as well as an increased risk of entering the child welfare system, according to the California Immigrant Policy Center.
I’m proud to say that my parents raised me well, instilling their values and encouraging me to do better every step of the way, and I greatly appreciate the sacrifices they made so I could have a better life. I am proud to be the first of my family to graduate from college.
I now work for Planned Parenthood, an organization that serves patients who come from diverse and often low-income communities. Everyone is welcome at Planned Parenthood, regardless of immigration status, gender, religion, race or ability to pay. And that is important to me. As one of the nation’s leading healthcare providers, at Planned Parenthood we see firsthand how harsh immigration enforcement and limiting access can stand in the way of families getting healthcare.
No one’s health should be compromised because of their immigration status. Immigrants are a vital part of our community; making our country better, stronger and more vibrant. Everyone deserves to be healthy. During Immigration Heritage month, not only should we be highlighting the important role immigrants play in our country, we should continue to fight for them to get the healthcare they deserve.
IRENE SALAZAR is vice president of community education and outreach at Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties.
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