Yesterday House Republican leaders laid out their long-awaited immigration reform principles. The fact that they have put principles down on paper is a welcome step forward, but that’s not enough. Any specific legislative proposals should protect basic healthcare access for millions of Latinos, many of whom pay taxes and want a fair pathway to citizenship.
Not long ago, Martha* came to a Planned Parenthood health center in the Rio Grande border after finding a lump in her breast. Like many on the border, Martha had come to the U.S. from Mexico and had no health insurance. She was diagnosed with breast cancer – but catching it early meant she was able to get treatment and beat the disease. Her second lump was a different story. By the time she found it, the health center she counted could not provide the services she needed due to cuts in funding for women’s health. Martha was faced with leaving her breast cancer untreated – her only options were to travel hundreds of miles to another health center or cross into Mexico.
At Planned Parenthood, our patients count on us for breast exams and lifesaving preventive care. They also count on us to be their fierce champion, to speak up for them when it matters. That’s why we urge Congress to pass immigration reform that includes access to affordable healthcare.
We see the difference healthcare makes for women and families every day –- and we’re all too familiar with the realities facing those with nowhere else to turn. Sixty percent of low-income, non-citizen women of reproductive age have no health coverage. They pay for doctors’ visits in cash, and often can’t afford to go. Like Martha, many are forced to go without lifesaving preventive care -— the difference between a death sentence and a fighting chance.
We are glad that immigration reform is on Congress’ agenda for 2014, and applaud the Senate for passing an immigration reform bill, but neither the principles released yesterday or the Senate bill passed last year would allow aspiring citizens to access healthcare. In the Senate bill, those on the pathway to citizenship who live here legally and pay taxes will have to wait up to 15 years for Medicaid and up to 10 years to buy health insurance. That’s millions of people paying into a healthcare system they can’t use. Without meaningful reform, these hardworking individuals will be blocked from affordable health insurance, though they have the greatest need. This is an important healthcare issue, and a fundamental economic one.
Last fall, a Planned Parenthood health center in Mission re-opened its doors –- a victory for women on the Rio Grande border, and the result of incredible work by President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County Patricio Gonzales. More women will have access to affordable healthcare and family planning, making them more likely to finish their education, get a job, and succeed in their career. At Planned Parenthood, we don’t just provide healthcare to nearly 3 million patients every year, we provide a path for women to build stronger, better futures for themselves and their families. That’s what immigration reform should do, too.
The millions of people who are calling on Congress to fix our broken immigration system can’t back down now. We need to keep the pressure on and ensure everyone in this country has access to quality, affordable, health care, regardless of income, geography, or citizenship status. It’s good policy –- and it’s the right thing to do.
Cecile Richards is the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund
*Martha's name has been changed to protect her privacy. Fusion spoke with several staff members at the Rio Grande clinic to confirm Martha's story.