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January 24, 2018

Even immigrants in US legally are skipping care due to fears of relatives' deportation

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    More immigrants from Latin America who are in the United States legally are turning down public health services and choosing not to enroll in federally subsidized insurance plans since President Trump took office, according to health advocates, Kelli Kennedy reports for the Associated Press.

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    Trump campaigned heavily on his proposals to halt illegal immigration and deport immigrants who are living in the country illegally. As a result, advocates say, immigrants who have legal permission to reside in the United States fear that, if they use public health services, their information could be used to identify relatives who are living in the country illegally and could be deported.

    A longstanding fear grows more intense

    The fear among some immigrants of accessing health programs predates Trump's presidency, but the immigration debate has had "a chilling effect on Hispanic participation in health care programs," Kennedy writes.

    Daniel Bouton—a director at the Community Council, a Dallas nonprofit that specializes in health care enrollment for low-income families—said, "Every single day families canceled" their Medicaid plans after Trump became president, and "people really didn't access any of our programs."

    Bouton shared the story of an immigrant woman who previously had signed up for federally subsidized insurance for two years but has now decided to forgo coverage, citing concern that her information will be used to find her husband, who is at risk for deportation. She also said she was thinking of not renewing CHIP coverage for her children.

    The woman, who declined to give her name out of concern her husband could be found, through a translator said, "We're afraid of maybe getting sick or getting into an accident, but the fear of my husband being deported is bigger."

    In addition, Bouton and other advocates said Hispanic immigrants are not seeking treatment when they're sick.

    Oscar Gomez, CEO of Health Outreach Partner, a national training and advocacy organization, said, "One social worker said she had a client who was forgoing chemotherapy because she had a child that was not here legally."

    More stories from the frontlines

    In Okeechobee, a south Florida rural city where many immigrant farm workers live, some patients canceled health appointments after immigration vehicles were spotted in conspicuous locations, advocates said. Patients waited until the immigration officials left before rescheduling, according to the advocates.

    Health workers in Washington and Florida said many immigrants who start the enrollment process for health programs stop once they encounter requirements related to proof of income, Social Security, and other personal information.

    Social workers in four Health Outreach Partner locations in California and the Pacific Northwest in a survey said patients had asked the center to remove information that could be used in deportation hearings.

    Gomez said that the situation has meant social workers have had to help with immigration concerns in addition to enrollment and health care needs. He said, "That planning is seen as more helpful and immediate to their patients than their medical needs right now" (Kennedy, AP/ABC News, 1/21).

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