Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of issues into focus. There has been so much disruption and fear surrounding the Coronavirus. Kids were out of school, businesses were shuttered and some could not survive the extended closures. People were not allowed to attend worship services for months while fears only grew. All of us have been affected in one way or another – some have lost jobs… and some have lost loved ones. 

Everything seems to be a hot-button issue these days, politically speaking. When you mix the COVID-19 pandemic and immigration, those are two biggies. The bottom line is if we want to continue to slow the spread in Texas we must work to protect all the people that live here. Today, undocumented workers have no access to insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act. They can get a free COVID-19 test, but where do they go for follow-up treatment? What are the ramifications of identifying someone with a deadly virus but then refusing treatment? Granted, many patients are told to self-isolate at home until they test negative, but what about the ones who need more extensive care?  

In Texas, we have a large population of undocumented workers that contribute to our economy. Per 2016 Census data, there are 1.6 million undocumented workers in Texas. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (itep.org) estimate they contribute $1.56 billion in state and local taxes. (And yes, that’s billion with a B!) Prior to COVID-19, immigrants often had many barriers to seeking care including fear of discrimination, financial constraints, loss of income, termination of employment, inadequate transportation, lack of access to translation services, and risk of deportation. In the midst of a pandemic, those barriers are even more pronounced. 

There are treatment options that include Federally Qualified Health Centers or free clinics that are available to illegal immigrants for immediate treatment of primary care needs. These options are widely available in cities but not in rural areas. Insurance may be provided through an employer or a spouse’s employer but that is the exception rather than the rule for undocumented workers. By offering temporary Medicaid coverage for undocumented workers who test positive for COVID-19, we can protect not only the immigrants who need a helping hand when they are ill, but we can help slow the spread to others in the community.  

As a graduate student in Social Work at Texas State, I have been charged with identifying a social justice issue and proposing a policy change. What could be more fitting than a policy that can help ALL Texans during the current pandemic? There is already a model in place for temporary care for undocumented immigrants in need through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Perinatal program, in which pregnant mothers are provided prenatal care throughout pregnancy but coverage terminates after the baby is born.  

If you support this idea of keeping all Texans safe, please reach out to your legislator.

Sara Salem

San Marcos

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