Study: Half of California’s Children Are Latino, 94% of Whom Are U.S. Citizens

study released Tuesday on Latino children’s health in California found that 94% of Latino children in the state were born in the U.S., which may have policy implications in the next legislative session when the issue of health coverage for the undocumented will be debated.

The study was commissioned by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health and conducted by the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, a national initiative based at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

It looked at the population of 4.7 million Latino children in California — more than half the children in California — and found:

  • More than 94% of them were born in the United States, making them U.S. citizens; Roughly 370,000 of them remain uninsured, despite being eligible for government-funded programs;
  • Roughly 370,000 of them remain uninsured, despite being eligible for government-funded programs;
  • About 25% of the Spanish-speaking households in California can be considered “linguistically isolated,” with no one age 14 or older conversant in English; and
  • About 58% of the children in those linguistically isolated households use a community or government clinic or a community hospital as a usual source of care.

“From a policy perspective, the majority of the kids are U.S. citizens,” said Claire Brindis, director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the UC-San Francisco School of Medicine.

“The take-home message is, whether or not you agree with services for the undocumented, that is a separate issue,” Brindis said. “There should be a firewall between that and doing something for the Latino children in the state.”

Getting services to kids who need them should be paramount for state policymakers, she said. “When we think of the canary in the coal mine, the question is, how are we treating the children? That should not be mired in broader debate of coverage for the undocumented.”

There are a number of reasons that state services are not reaching Latino children, she said. Some don’t know they’re eligible for services: “In these linguistically isolated homes, some of these families are living in the shadows,” Brindis said.

And some, she said, may know they’re eligible for services but fear using them. “Some of the children likely are in mixed immigration status families, and they think they’ll be in trouble if they use services. So they have a kind of Sophie’s Choice. Where can they take their kids for health care?”

Taking care of those kids in some ways is really like taking care of ourselves, she said.

“They were born here, they’re here,” Brindis said. “And they’re going to take care of you and me when we’re old. Punishing the children for immigration status in their family, to me, is really immoral.”

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