The fear of family separation is nothing new for many immigrants already living in the U.S. In fact, that fear, heightened in recent weeks, has been forcing a tough decision for a while. Advocates say a growing number of American children are dropping out of Medicaid and other government programs because their parents are not citizens.
Marlene is an undocumented resident of Texas and has two children who are U.S. citizens who qualify for Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people. (Kaiser Health News is not using Marlene’s last name because of her immigration status.) One of her children has some disabilities. “My son is receiving speech therapy,” she said in Spanish. “But it’s been difficult.”It was a long journey to get the right evaluations and diagnoses, and her son is finally making progress, Marlene said. But she braces for a day when he might have to do without this therapy and others that are paid for through Medicaid. Because she’s undocumented, she’s extremely nervous about filling out applications for government programs like this.
Already, she has decided to stop receiving food stamps, now known as SNAP, which her children, as citizens, are entitled to based on the family’s income. She dropped it because the application to receive those benefits changed, she said. “They are asking a lot of questions,” she said. “They are investigating one’s life from head to toe.”
Marlene said she was nervous, in particular, about being asked to provide years of pay stubs and other eligibility requirements she had not experienced before. Marlene said the application alone made her “sick from stress.”
Repeated calls and emails to Texas health officials to ask about the changes in the benefits application process went unanswered. Marlene’s son has Medicaid for the next several months. But she is worried how that application will change, too, next time she has to apply.
Health care groups say they’ve observed other immigrant families making similar choices, and they think it will accelerate if a proposed change to green card eligibility becomes law. Under the proposed change, if family members receive government services — even if those family members are citizens — it would ding the applicants’ chances of approval for permanent residency.
“We are seeing families having to make this impossible choice,” said Maria Hernandez, the founder of Vela, a nonprofit in Austin that helps parents who have children with disabilities.—Courtesy: Nbcnews.com