Deportation fears have legal immigrants avoiding health care


Associated Press

MIAMI

The number of legal immigrants from Latin American nations who access public health services and enroll in federally subsidized insurance plans has dipped substantially since President Donald Trump took office, many of them fearing their information could be used to identify and deport relatives living in the U.S. illegally, according to health advocates across the country.

Trump based his campaign on promises to stop illegal immigration and deport any immigrants in the country illegally, but many legal residents and U.S. citizens are losing their health care as a result, advocates say.

After Trump became president a year ago, “every single day families canceled” their Medicaid plans and “people really didn’t access any of our programs,” said Daniel Bouton, a director at the Community Council, a Dallas nonprofit that specializes in health care enrollment for low-income families.

The trend stabilized a bit as the year went on, but it remains clear that the increasingly polarized immigration debate is having a chilling effect on Hispanic participation in health care programs, particularly during the enrollment season that ended in December.

Bouton’s organization has helped a 52-year-old housekeeper from Mexico, a legal resident, sign up for federally subsidized health insurance for two years. But now she’s going without, fearing immigration officials will use her enrollment to track down her husband, who is in the country illegally. She’s also considering not re-enrolling their children, 15 and 18, in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, even though they were born in the U.S.

“We’re afraid of maybe getting sick or getting into an accident, but the fear of my husband being deported is bigger,” the woman, who declined to give their names for fear her husband could be deported, said through a translator.

Hispanic immigrants are not only declining to sign up for health care under programs that began or expanded under Barack Obama’s presidency – they’re also not seeking treatment when they’re sick, Bouton and others say.

“One social worker said she had a client who was forgoing chemotherapy because she had a child that was not here legally,” said Oscar Gomez, CEO of Health Outreach Partner, a national training and advocacy organization.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.