Faith-based organizations show support for health care for legal immigrants

September 14, 2009

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

The timing could not have been better!  On Friday, September 11, nearly 40 faith-based organizations sent a letter to President Obama and all members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives urging that legal immigrants and other vulnerable immigrant populations be included in any national health care plan enacted by Congress.  Protestant Christians, the Catholic Bishops and religious orders, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists affirmed together that “the provision of health care is a shared responsibility grounded in the sacred act of creation and our common humanity.  Universal teachings within the scriptural texts of our diverse faith communities call us to welcome strangers and compassionately care for their basic human needs – including health care.”  View the letter

Health care reform proposals currently impose a five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to receive federal benefits; funding for benefits for undocumented immigrants is explicitly prohibited.  Now, in the wake of an ugly and disrespectful outburst from a member of Congress, there is a move to impose excessive citizenship documentation for federal health care benefits, which historically has done more to create barriers for racial and ethnic minority citizens than serve its intended purpose.  And a big disappointment is that the White House pronounced that undocumented immigrants would not be allowed to purchase health insurance in the proposed exchange — even if paying full price with no government subsidy.  (Are they aware of how many undocumented immigrants already buy their own insurance who could end up uninsured by this action?)

By sending this letter to our President and members of Congress, people of faith seek to rectify the injustice of denying access to health care for legal immigrants and their families.  We affirm that legal immigrants contribute to society, work hard,  pay all the taxes required of citizens, and desire to pay their fair share for affordable health care.  We recognize that uninsured immigrants, like uninsured citizens, are vulnerable.  With no access to preventative care, they too often have to rely on emergency-room care, which is always more expensive and is often too late.  We understand that providing access to health care would ensure healthier immigrant communities, would drive down the cost of uncompensated care, and ultimately would contribute to savings for all of us.  But most important, we ensure that they have what they need in order to live out the fullness of their sacred potential as individuals and as contributing members of our society.

Isn’t it time that we enact public policy based on compassion and justice, not on hate and bigotry?  And isn’t it time that we embrace the heart of ONE human family and, in doing so, reclaim the soul of our nation?

The letter is available as a Word document online for advocates to print and share in communications with their Members of Congress.