IMMIGRANT HEALTH: Threatened By INS Intimidation, Group Says
The state Department of Health Services has been "illegally" providing information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service about immigrants' legal use of Medi-Cal services, according to the California Primary Care Association. Carmela Castellano, the association's CEO, said the Investigations Branch of the health department has been providing the information to INS, which in turn uses the information to "intimidate the immigrant population." As a result, lawfully eligible Medi-Cal recipients have been refusing needed services because they fear the consequences they will suffer at the hands of the INS, according to CPCA. The CPCA says some immigrants have received undue threats of family separation, repayment to the state for services used and the denial of adjustment of status. "There are wonderful programs, such as the state's new Healthy Families low-cost insurance plan for children, and though their children are legally eligible for the plan, parents fear that receiving Healthy Families/Medi-Cal benefits could have negative consequences later on," said Castellano.
The CPCA says that in an effort to eliminate the "illegal activity" toward the immigrants, budget subcommittees in both the state Assembly and Senate discontinued funding for the DHS investigative programs. But funding for two of these programs was reinstated last week at the request of Gov. Pete Wilson. "We are concerned over the action the governor took, but despite that poor decision, we are maintaining our message: the clinics are the state's health care safety net for all populations, especially the immigrant community," said Castellano. She also noted that providing health care for immigrants saves taxpayers' money in the long run. "If pregnant mothers are refusing prenatal care because they fear future repercussions from INS, the state will have a more serious situation on their hands when that child is born prematurely, with birth defects, or worse," she said (CPCA release, 7/31). Click here to read past California Healthline coverage of Latino and immigrant health care issues.