She'd been without private insurance since the premiums became too costly. But a friend assured her that, even as an illegal immigrant from Colombia, she would qualify for Medi-Cal, the state and federal health insurance program for the poor.I've blogged much about illegal immigration, as regular readers here know. It's stories like this one that continue to illustrate how out of whack U.S. immigration policies are. Immigration restrictionists -- like the FAIR organization noted above -- routinely point out the cost to U.S. taxpayers from social services to undocumented immigrants. This story is a good example of the phenomenon. While the case can be made that emergency medical services should be provided to any individual in the country regardless of citizenship status, the receipt of such programs is largely viewed in the immigrant community as an entitlement. The comments from another illegal alien interviewed for the story are representative of the undocumented entitlement mindset:
Andrade, a clothing exporter, is one of more than 100,000 undocumented women each year who bear children in California with expenses paid by Medi-Cal, according to state reports. They now account for about one in five births.
Regardless of their parents' status, the children are American citizens by law.
Many illegal immigrants who might otherwise shy away from government services view care associated with childbirth as something they can safely seek, a protected right.
"I wasn't afraid at all," said Andrade, who came to the United States with her daughters on a tourist visa and stayed here with her boyfriend after it expired. "I'd always heard that pregnant women are treated well here."
California long has been one of the more generous states in offering such benefits, covering everything from pregnancy tests to postpartum checkups for impoverished illegal immigrants.
Such births and associated expenses account for more than $400 million of the nearly $1 billion that the program spends each year on healthcare for illegal immigrants in California, documents and reports show. Only about a dozen other states extend similar benefits to illegal immigrants, according to health and immigrant rights groups.
Although it has not so far figured prominently in the national discussion of immigration reform, a debate is simmering about the costs — and the rights — of illegal immigrants' American-born children.
Some advocates for immigration control want to abolish automatic or "birthright" citizenship for babies born to undocumented women in the United States. They consider it just the first in an unacceptably long line of public benefits flowing to children who were born here only because their mothers broke the law.
"I think most Americans think that — while they certainly don't want to do anything to harm children — you cannot have a policy that says anybody in the world come here and have a baby and we have a new American," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, an immigration control group based in Washington, D.C.
One of the most controversial aspects of coverage has been prenatal care. Labor and delivery long have been considered emergencies, entitled to some federal reimbursement. But federal officials have balked at covering prenatal care since at least the 1980s. (Generally, the state and federal governments share the cost of Medicaid programs — called Medi-Cal in California.)
In 1989, California passed a law guaranteeing prenatal care to all impoverished women, with the state footing the bill. Last year, it began to tap federal funds dedicated to healthcare for working families, under the theory that the fetus would ultimately be an American child. Some other states have done the same.
"My husband pays taxes. They take a bunch out of his paycheck," Ludys Ortiz, 36, said as she nursed her newborn son Christian at Women and Children's Hospital, down the hall from Andrade.Actually, there are national borders that divide us, although they seem to becoming less and less important in this age of cultural globalization.
Her husband works for $12 an hour washing cars at a body shop.
Ortiz, who entered the U.S. illegally in 2004 from Honduras, worked as a caretaker for children and the elderly, then as a house cleaner.The pregnancy was unexpected."
I am embarrassed because I'm not from here, I didn't pay anything and they delivered my baby without my having to pay anything," she said."
But I'm more grateful than ashamed, because there's no sin in asking for help, only in stealing."
We all have some rights in life. No matter what, we're human beings," she added. "The only thing that divides us is a few pieces of paper."