Trying to Survive Our Broken Immigration System

By Jessica Sanchez Rodriguez, ACTION Institute N.C.

Jessica Sanchez PhotoI have spent more than 99 percent of my life in the United States.  I may not have been born here, but it’s the only country I have ever known, and I feel I am an American.  It wasn’t my choice to be born disabled in another country.  Now I am 18 years old and can’t get the surgery I need to save my life.

Currently, aspiring Americans like me are not eligible for assistance programs, such as nonemergency Medicaid, or the economic support to purchase coverage through state health marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act.  The Senate’s immigration bill would extend this ban to immigrants who qualify for provisional legal status.  Worse, immigrants would be banned from these programs and benefits for ten years, despite paying into them with their taxes.

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I was born three months premature.  At birth I was diagnosed with Spinal Bifida and Hydrocephalus.  Doctors informed my parents that their daughter had just three months to live.  Yet I lived for over two years in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then finally received the medical attention I needed.  For the next 15 years, I received constant medical care to live a normal and productive life.  This past February I turned 18, and as an adult I am no longer eligible for the medical care I had received because of my age and immigration status.

My parents, while undocumented, pay taxes, yet I am still unable to receive government help.  Access to Medicaid right now would mean that I would not have to continue waiting for an emergency lifesaving surgery.  My family is currently attempting to raise $45,000 to connect a catheter to my bladder.

Recently, Senator Hirono (D–Hawaii) proposed an amendment which recognizes that immigrants are contributors, so immigrants who are lawfully present, employed, and have satisfied their tax liabilities should not be prohibited from using any federally funded benefits programs or tax credits because of their immigration status.  Not only is this fair, it also creates economic opportunity for immigrants and their families.  Senator Hirono’s amendment to restore taxpayer fairness to aspiring citizens will enable those on the pathway to citizenship to succeed, and it will promote the health of our families, communities, and economy.

I hope that Congress does the right thing and includes those of us who are disabled in the final immigration reform bill.  Through our taxes, we pay into the system.  We subsidize the benefits for everyone else.  It is only fair that we receive the services we pay for.  Anything else would be un-American.

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