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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

[Congressional Record: June 25, 2001 (House)]
[Page H3511-H3514]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr25jn01-84]                         

 WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN AMERICA DENIED VITAL MEDICAL AND FOOD BENEFITS 
                     BECAUSE OF IMMIGRATION STATUS

  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Kennedy of Minnesota). Under the 
Speaker's announced policy of January 3, 2001, the gentleman from Texas 
(Mr. Rodriguez) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the 
minority leader.
  Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Mr. Speaker, this special order tonight is to 
highlight some injustices, an injustice that is not only unfair, but 
unwise. Tens of thousands of women and children in this country are 
denied vital medical and food benefits because of their immigration 
status. What does this policy say about our country, the richest in the 
world, especially now in these times of surplus? What kind of country 
are we building for our children when we say some are eligible and some 
are not, even though they have played by the rules?
  These are people that are legal immigrants that have played by the 
rules. Today hundreds of thousands of women and children are left 
outside without assistance in times of need. These are people who are 
here legally. They have followed the guidelines. They have paid taxes. 
They work. They are individuals that are out there baby-sitting our 
children, that pick up our trash. These people have been working hard, 
and they are strong Americans.
  But in 1996, Congress decided that it was not the American benefit to 
provide safety net services to the communities that contribute so much. 
Last week we observed the first International French Citizen Day. It is 
only fitting that we recognize the contributions of this community and 
restore their access to the food and medical assistance that they need. 
I strongly believe that we need to look at this as a national public 
health issue.
  When children go sick because their families cannot afford care, it 
is a public health issue. When pregnant women cannot get prenatal care, 
it is a public health issue. When pregnant women and young children do 
not have essential nutrition that they need, it is a public health 
issue. Ultimately it impacts on more than just our health, it hurts our 
educational system and economic possibilities.

                              {time}  2130

  Children who go to school hungry will not perform to the best of 
their abilities. Nor will they achieve the full potential that they 
have. We all lose when we do not provide them access to good quality 
care and good nutrition.
  As I need to remind my colleagues, this is a Nation of immigrants, a 
Nation whose strength has come from hard work, of those who have fled 
persecution, from those who have left

[[Page H3512]]

other countries to find better futures in our country, and who have 
left with their families and have come here. None of us would be here 
if it were not for immigration. Our country would have not had the 
academic, scientific, nor the industrial strength it does today without 
the contribution of our immigrants.
  So why do we choose to raise obstacles in the way that we have? It is 
wrong. We should change our misguided policy as soon as possible. 
Numerous bills are pending in the House under the banner of health 
solutions for hardworking American families that offer solutions for 
correcting this problem. The Legal Immigrant Children's Health 
Improvement Act, H.R. 1143, introduced by the gentleman from Florida 
(Mr. Diaz-Balart) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Waxman), the 
Nutrition Assistance for Working Families and Seniors Act, which is 
H.R. 2142, introduced by the gentleman from New York (Mr. Walsh), and 
the Women Immigrants Safe Harbor Act, H.R. 2258, introduced by the 
gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Levin), the gentlewoman from California 
(Ms. Pelosi), the gentlewoman from Maryland (Mrs. Morella) and others. 
These three bills help to basically address one of the problems that we 
have encountered.
  Should we deny health care and nutrition to this baby? The answer 
should be no. This baby should have access to good nutrition. We need 
to understand that these people are here legally and they have gone 
through the process. But because of our laws that we passed in 1996, we 
excluded them from participating in access to Medicare and the CHIP 
program that helps youngsters to be able to have access to insurance 
coverage; and in addition, we have excluded them from food stamps that 
are very critical, and in some cases we will find different families 
that have one that was born here, one that has come abroad, some that 
qualify, some that do not. So we have in our laws things that need to 
be corrected. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to do this in this 
session.
  In addition, the Women Immigrants Safe Harbor Act, which is the third 
piece of legislation that is important, we have a lot of women that are 
abused. They do not have the opportunity to be able to get the services 
that they need. It is important. The third piece of legislation that we 
are going to be talking about tonight is the Women Immigrants Safe 
Harbor Act. I want to take this opportunity to also thank my fellow 
colleague who is here from Texas, Congressman Gene Green from Houston, 
who has been in the forefront on a variety of issues. He just spent 
some time talking about the Patients' Bill of Rights. I know he is up 
here tonight to talk about these issues. I thank him for being here 
with us.
  Mr. GREEN of Texas. I thank my colleague for yielding, Mr. Speaker, 
and also for his taking this hour, 9:30 Washington time, 8:30 Houston 
and San Antonio time. We have thousands of immigrants who come to this 
country with the hope that they will be able to fulfill their own 
American dream. They want to work, pay their taxes, and contribute to 
their and our society. They want to raise their children in a democracy 
where all people are created equal.
  Unfortunately, our current laws do not treat all people equally, 
especially legal immigrants. Most Americans who pay their taxes can 
count on food stamps, Medicaid or other safety net programs if they 
fall on hard times. But as my colleague, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. 
Rodriguez), mentioned, the 1996 welfare reform act denies this kind of 
assistance to many lawfully present immigrants, including children up 
to 5 years. As a result, immigrants and their children who played by 
the rules and are here legally face the impending threat of hunger and 
sickness in a way that no other taxpayer in our country could fathom. 
Additionally, because of the 5-year ban, U.S.-citizen children in 
immigrant families are less likely to be enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP 
programs even though they are still eligible for these programs.
  Mr. Speaker, each year immigrants pay approximately $1,800 more in 
taxes than they use in services; but in their time of need we slam the 
door in their face and say, Come back when you've been here 5 years. 
This law is arbitrary, unfair and I think we should overturn it. That 
is why I am proud to speak in support as my colleague is of H.R. 1143, 
the Legal Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act of 2001. I was a 
cosponsor of this in the last Congress and a cosponsor in this 
Congress. This legislation gives the States the option of allowing low-
income legal immigrant children and pregnant women access to Medicaid 
and the State Children's Health Improvement Program, the CHIP program. 
If States opt to cover pregnant immigrant women and their children, 
then Federal matching funds would be available, because again if you 
are here legally and you are pregnant, we want that mother to have a 
healthy child. And if we provide those women with prenatal services, we 
will make sure that child is healthier; and in the long run it is to 
the benefit of all of us because we want healthy children.

  I also support H.R. 2142, the Nutrition Assistance for Working 
Families and Seniors Act. This important legislation restores food 
stamp program eligibility for low-income legal immigrants and makes 
other modest improvements in programs for working families and our 
elderly. I represent a very urban district. We have Hispanic elderly 
who literally have been here almost their whole life, although in the 
last few years they have been becoming citizens at a record pace; but 
there still are individuals who have built this country and need this 
assistance.
  I am also a strong supporter of the Women Immigrants Safe Harbor, or 
the WISH Act, which would provide vital support service to immigrant 
women who must endure the tragic and difficult situation of domestic 
violence. Immigrant victims of domestic violence are especially 
dependent on their abusers because of the restrictions passed in the 
1996 welfare reform act. This law inhibits battered immigrant women 
from accessing the resources they need to leave their abuser. The WISH 
bill would allow legal immigrants who are victims of domestic violence 
to apply for critical safety net services such as medical and food 
assistance if they are victims of battery or extreme cruelty by a 
family member; and, two, demonstrate that receiving benefits would 
significantly lessen the risk of that battery.
  Mr. Speaker, eligibility for vital support services should be based 
on need and not just your immigrant status. Many tax-paying legal 
immigrants work in low-wage jobs and their families could use these 
vital support services to continue to succeed in our country.
  I want to thank my colleague for asking for this Special Order 
tonight to highlight the need for our immigrants because he is right, 
we are an immigrant Nation. Some of us just got here sooner than 
others. We need to be able to have them conform and succeed in our 
country because we all came from somewhere. That is why I am proud to 
be not only an American but also allow for legal immigrants to come and 
build this country, to continue to build this country like our 
forefathers did whether you be in San Antonio, Houston, or anywhere in 
our country.
  I thank the gentleman for taking this time tonight.
  Mr. RODRIGUEZ. I want to thank the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Green) 
as he so eloquently indicated was the fact that we are talking about 
legal immigrants. We are not talking about individuals that are here 
illegally. These are people that went by the rules and played by the 
rules and abide by all the laws that we have. They have not become 
citizens as of yet and find themselves in this situation. At this time 
to make the system fair for everyone, I urge my colleagues to cosponsor 
these important pieces of legislation that I have mentioned.
  Once again, it is the Legal Immigrant Children's Health Improvement 
Act, H.R. 1143 and S. 582; number two is the Nutrition Assistance for 
Working Families and Seniors Act, which is H.R. 2142; and the third is 
the Women Immigrants Safe Harbor Act. These are three important pieces 
of legislation that I feel will correct some of the injustices that 
exist out there and try to correct the situation where these 
individuals will be able to apply.
  As the Congressman has also indicated, when we look at those two 
pieces of legislation, first the Legal Immigrant Children's Health 
Improvement Act, it is one about making sure

[[Page H3513]]

that people get included into Medicaid. The legislation does not 
require any State to cover these immigrant children and pregnant women. 
It merely allows the State to draw down Federal moneys to be able to 
provide the care. And so if States choose to do that, they can; but it 
is not mandatory. Secondly, the Nutrition Assistance for Working 
Families, once again it allows the State the option of creating a fixed 
6-month transitional food stamp benefit for those moving from welfare 
to work in addition to providing them access to those food stamps that 
are critical.
  I want to take this opportunity to look at the specific problem that 
we have encountered with the existing piece of legislation. Current law 
bars legal immigrants, including pregnant women and children who arrive 
after August 22, 1996, for 5 years from receiving health benefits under 
Medicaid or under the CHIP program. Remember the CHIP program is that 
program of those youngsters, those families that are working hard and 
making money but yet do not have access to any kind of coverage. They 
are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but they are finding 
themselves that they could qualify for CHIP; but because of the fact 
that they are in this status that they arrived here after August 22, 
1996, they have to wait 5 years. Children and pregnant women who are 
denied coverage through the CHIP and Medicaid 5-year ban usually can 
get other vital health care coverages.

  We all know and recognize that preventive care minimizes emergency 
room visits, a costly and inefficient way of providing health care. 
More alarming is a recent Kaiser study that was done which reports that 
even though noncitizens are more likely to be without usual sources of 
care, they are less likely to go to emergency rooms than citizens. This 
particular study finds that if you are a noncitizen but here legally, 
you are less likely to have access to health care. This means that 
noncitizens are less likely to be able to have those opportunities, to 
be able to have preventive care, to be able to get to the emergency 
care when it is needed.
  The second piece of legislation, the Legal Immigrant Children's 
Health Improvement Act, gives States the option to allow low-income 
legal immigrants, children and pregnant women to have access not only 
to Medicaid and CHIP, but it also looks in terms of access to 
additional services. When we look at the health of children in 
immigrant families, it is important that now the States are having a 
crisis in this particular situation. Certain States are burdened, in 
addition, more than others. Some have more noncitizens than others. So 
we see the disparity that exists.
  According to a recent Urban Institute study, children of immigrants 
are three times as likely as children of natives to lack the usual 
sources of health care and more than twice as likely to be as fair or 
poor in health. For pregnant women and their children, regular prenatal 
care and early intervention saves lives and dollars as we all know. 
Children who have routine office visits and immunizations grow to be 
healthier adults with less medical complications. Children monitored by 
pediatricians are less likely to be victimized by chronic and 
communicable diseases. The 5-year ban on providing Medicaid and CHIP 
coverage has been the greatest barrier to health care for legal 
immigrants. As a matter of decency and as a matter of economics and as 
a matter of public health, legal immigrant children and pregnant women 
deserve the same access to essential health care coverage offered to 
citizens.
  We are talking about people who also pay their taxes, and we are 
talking about individuals that are here legally. This group has been 
singled out, and they are forbidden from accessing the very programs 
their tax dollars support. Studies show that each year, immigrants pay 
approximately $1,800 more in taxes than they use in services. This is 
according to the National Academy of Science.
  I would like to point out that the vast majority of immigrant 
families are mixed-status families that include at least one U.S. 
citizen and typically a child. The mixed status makes it impossible to 
have continued good continuity of services for the family. For 
instance, one foreign-born child may rely on emergency room care while 
a U.S.-born sibling might qualify for Medicaid.
  And so you find those situations in particular households where you 
have the parents that are here legally, then have children and now find 
themselves that the children might qualify, but they do not or the 
other children do not. The same complications are true for accessing 
other services such as food stamps. The Second Harvest National Food 
Bank Network study that was recently done found nearly 38 percent of 
emergency food assistance for clients that were children. That is, 38 
percent of emergency food assistance clients were children. So we find 
a situation where children are lacking good nutrition.

                              {time}  2145

  The food stamp program has played a vital role in helping low income 
working families, the elderly and the disabled make ends meet. It is a 
crucial support for hard-working families trying to make ends meet. For 
families who are in mixed immigrant status and that is where they have 
some kids that are citizens and some that are in the process of 
becoming citizens, it is the child that is hurt the most. Children who 
are U.S. citizens may not receive food stamps because their parents 
have immigrant status. Participation in the food stamp program among 
citizen children with legal permanent resident status declined 70 
percent from 1994 to 1998. So we have actually had a decline in the 
participation from 1.35 million to 350,000. Twice the overall rate of 
participation declined in the food stamp program.
  I think that a lot of this is attributed to the piece of legislation 
that we have now and we will hopefully be able to correct that. I find 
this appalling, especially when you consider the reports that document 
hunger among children in America. This year the Urban Institute 
reported that nationwide 37 percent of all children immigrants lived in 
families worried about encountering difficulties with purchasing food. 
Should we deny food and nutrition services to children that are babies 
and would you deny this particular baby the right to have access to 
good quality nutrition and to good care?
  I think it is important for us that we be responsive and treat 
everyone in an equitable manner. So you have thousands of children 
throughout this country that find themselves in this particular 
loophole that I feel that needs to be corrected and these three pieces 
of legislation helped do that.
  So as we move forward, I urge my colleagues to cosponsor the 
Nutrition Assistance for Working Families and Seniors Act, which would 
restore food stamp benefits to qualified immigrants and primarily 
affecting families with children.
  I also want to say a few words about a bill recently introduced by 
the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Levin) on Women Immigrants Safe Harbor 
Act, which is H.R. 2258. This particular legislation allows legal 
immigrants, who are victims of domestic violence, to be eligible for 
public benefits such as food stamps and Medicare and SSI for the period 
of time long enough to allow them to escape from their abusers. I will 
say that time and time again we need to care for the most vulnerable in 
our communities. Individuals fleeing domestic violence certainly need 
our help. It is time to talk about compassion, about fairness, about 
keeping our community healthy. Now is the time to give legal immigrants 
a chance to escape their abusive relationships. Under the present 
situation, they cannot. Now is the time to restore both the medicaid 
and the CHIPS benefits to lawfully presenting in any event women and 
children. Now is the time also to restore the food stamp benefits to 
working families and children and the seniors who rely on the 
assistance in time of need.
  I urge my colleagues to support the healthy solutions of American 
hard working families. This is the right thing to do for the 
immigrants, for the children and for all Americans.
  I want to take this final opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to just indicate 
that it is three pieces of legislation that will help correct the 
problems that we see now. Once again, it is the Legal Immigrant 
Children's Health Improvement Act that talks about only people that are 
legally in this country. I am not

[[Page H3514]]

talking about illegal. These are people once again that went by the 
rules, played by the rules and now they find themselves in that 5-year 
gap. I ask for assistance and for people to sign up.
  Secondly, when it comes to nutrition and food stamps, we want to make 
sure that the Nutrition Assistance for Working Families and Seniors Act 
also is passed so they will have access to food stamps if they are in 
need.
  Finally, the Women Immigrants Safe Harbor Act allows women that are 
being abused the opportunity to qualify for these programs as they flee 
from those situations that are not healthy.


                             General Leave

  Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members 
may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their 
remarks on the subject of my special order tonight.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Kennedy of Minnesota). Is there 
objection to the request of the gentleman from Texas?
  There was no objection.

                          ____________________



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