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Youngest victims of anti-immigrant law

By Alvaro Lopez | December 15, 2006 | Page 7

CHILDREN BORN in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants will no longer be entitled to health insurance through Medicaid, according to the Bush administration.

Administration officials say they are instituting the new policy as a result of a law signed by George Bush at the beginning of 2006 that tightens requirements on applications for Medicaid, the government's health care program for the poor.

Under a 1984 law, once a woman received emergency care under Medicaid for the birth of a baby, the child was considered eligible for coverage as well for one year. Under the new policy, applications must be filed for the child, and parents must provide documents to prove the child's citizenship.

"The federal government told us we have no latitude," Marilyn Wilson, a spokesperson for the Medicaid program in Tennessee, told the New York Times. "We will not be able to cover any services for the newborn until a Medicaid application is filed. That could be days, weeks or months after the child is born."

Tens of thousands of children born to undocumented workers in the U.S. will be affected.

According to a spokesperson for Rep. Charlie Norwood, the sponsor of the law that George Bush signed earlier this year, "Charlie's intent was for every person receiving Medicaid to provide documentation...[W]ith newborns, that shouldn't be a problem. All you have to do is provide a birth certificate or hospital records verifying birth."

But Dr. Jay Berkelhamer, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics told the New York Times that obtaining a birth certificate can take up to several weeks, making this a new hurdle for immigrant parents. The policy, Berkelhamer said, "punishes babies who, according to the Constitution, are citizens because they were born here."

What's more, the restriction is one more factor pushing undocumented immigrants underground. Because of the escalating crackdown on the undocumented through Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and Social Security "no match" letters, immigrants have a good reason to avoid contact with any type of government official.

Elena Delim, head nurse of the pediatric unit at New York City's Elmhurst Hospital Center, said she had no idea such law existed. "First and foremost, I'm an immigrant myself and will never refuse to help someone in need," Delim said. "Secondly, laws will be laws, but we actually run this center."

So much for the Bush administration and Congress' talk about family values--apparently taking care of infants doesn't count.

"I don't think that people will accept this [law]," said Alberto Reyes, a day laborer organizer in New York. "We should continue organizing in our communities, reach out to nurses and doctors, and confront these attacks on undocumented workers."

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