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by Adam Sotak

Last week at a meeting (I attend a lot of meetings) I heard some disturbing news from a partner organization. They said they are seeing an increasing number of immigrant families who are asking about how to disenroll their children from Medicaid or the NC Health Choice program. These are children who are lawful U.S. citizens and have every right to these and other important public services. It’s not an anomaly. Recent national data show regression in overall rates of child health coverage for the first time after decades of progress. This is especially troubling given how important kids’ health coverage is for healthy development. Better children’s health leads to longer, healthier lives, a greater likelihood of finishing high school or attending college, and a more prosperous future. 

Service providers and community leaders describe seeing Latinx families becoming increasingly reluctant to use important children’s health services. This is sad, but not surprising given increasingly racist rhetoric, and a growing list of proposed rules and laws on the local, state, and federal levels aimed at confusing and intimidating immigrant groups. 

Last week, NC Child and thirty-eight partner organizations from Asheville to Ahoskie sent a letter to North Carolina’s Congressional delegation opposing the new so-called “public charge” rule. This is one of a spate of recent federal anti-immigrant regulations aimed at scaring people away from using services they pay for and are legally entitled to. 

In the bigger picture, the targeting and scapegoating of immigrants is a calculated and cynical political strategy. A growing subset of elected leaders and candidates are using this old-fashioned strategy as a way to prey on people’s fears in order to win votes. Think along the lines of the rhetoric espoused by Southern segregationists (mainly Democrats) of the 1950s and 60s, and the Jesse Helms campaigns in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Like the real effects that Jim Crow-era laws and disinformation campaigns had on Black Americans, current anti-immigrant proposals will also ultimately result in poorer health for children, the separation of families, and poorer communities. 

The “public charge” rule, the Flores settlement (related to child detention), the citizenship question on the US Census, broader border detention policies, ICE detainers and raids, and more – these all in a way represent the current battle for the heart of our country. Those of us who advocate for children have to speak up and take action to support immigrant communities. What could be more important to our children? 

The new public charge rule is complicated. Those currently in the U.S. who would be directly impacted by the regulatory changes in Public Charge changes is actually rather small. However, the rule is creating a chilling effect for immigrant families who may be fearful of using important programs, such as SNAP, SSI, housing assistance, and TANF. The result is children who don’t always have the nutrition, stable housing, and other resources they need to be healthy and safe.

Most damaging is the new “wealth test” that the final rule will create when it goes into effect on October 15. This test will prioritize wealthier immigrants over those who have low and moderate incomes, making it harder to gain lawful permanent resident status (become a “green card” holder). This marks a significant shift in US immigration policy. 

Thank you to all of those who joined our letter against the Public Charge rule. Thank you for calling your US Senators to oppose locking children in crowded jails at the US-Mexico border. Thank you for valuing every child, no matter where their parents were born, or the color of their skin. Let’s continue to work together to ensure that every child in North Carolina has the chance to grow up healthy and safe. 

Adam Sotak is NC Child’s Director of Community Engagement.

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