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Children of Immigrants
Dr. Ricky Choi sees big stakes for child health in immigration reform debate.

By Dr. Ricky Choi

For many the immigration debate in Washington is more than just a debate. It's potentially life altering. And while most of the focus has been on beefing up borders and deciding who deserves citizenship, there is one group that does not get enough discussion, children. As a pediatrician for many immigrant families and as a child of immigrants, I know that getting the right reforms is stronger medicine for my patients than anything I could prescribe.

One in four children in the United States lives in an immigrant family, so this is not a small group. They are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. One day they will grow up to become our nation's future. So how are we treating them?

Frankly, not very well. Children from immigrant families are twice as likely to be uninsured and more likely to live in poverty. In some states, even legal immigrant children must endure waiting periods before they are eligible to access public programs including Medicaid. This means delays in getting needed health care as well as immunizations and care for chronic illnesses.

Parent deportation is exacting a heavy toll. It is estimated over 200,000 parents of citizen children have been deported in the past two years. This has been shown to cause anxiety, depression and poor school performance in affected children not to mention adding to a child's risk to food and housing instability. At a young age this type of stress is physiologically toxic with the potential for lifelong consequences.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Recently the Senate passed an immigration bill that begins to address many of these issues. Detained parents would be allowed to make guardian arrangements for their children and the best interest of the child will be considered in decisions regarding a parent's detention or release. It also limits enforcement actions in sensitive locations such as schools and hospitals. Now the House must pass similar legislation with the addition of guaranteeing access to healthcare for aspiring American children without delay.
 
Immigrant children are the future of this country, as they've always been. Let's reform the immigration system to make their future and therefore our future prosperous.

With a Perspective, I'm Ricky Choi.

Ricky Choi is a Bay Area pediatrician and chair of the Immigrant Child Health group of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

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