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Anti-Immigrant Hysteria Could Block Black Access to Health Care

Eric Ward • Oct 26, 2009

In an attempt to placate House Representatives associated with the extremist House Immigration Reform Caucus who are looking for a reason to oppose health care, Congress has put African Americans at risk. It is not the role of Congress to promote anti-immigrant bigotry and further disenfranchise African Americans. It is a false remedy with serious side effects and must be rejected.

Under [H.R. 3200]—America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009- millions of African Americans could potentially be denied Federal payments for affordability credits. H.R. 3200, SEC. 246 (No Federation Payment for Undocumented Aliens) reads:

Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for the affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.

Neither SEC. 246 nor H.R. 3200 responds to the reality that 8.9 percent (or roughly 2 million) of all African Americans in the U.S. do not have a Social Security card, driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, or other proof of naturalization, and would thereby be excluded from accessing Federal payments for affordability credits.

A 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that African-Americans were more than three times as likely as Caucasians to lack a government-issued photo ID, with one in four African Americans possessing no such ID. In 2006 the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities highlighted that 8.9 percent, roughly 2 million African Americans don’t have a Social Security card, driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, or proof of naturalization.

In 1950, Sam Shapiro, now Emeritus Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, conducted a case study for the journal Population Studies, and found that, due to segregation barring black children from being born in white hospitals, one-fifth of African Americans born from 1939-40 were never issued birth certificates.

It is important to note that the segregation of hospitals did not end until well into the 1960s. Segregation in Greensboro, North Carolina hospitals, for example, did not end until 1963, and as of June 23, 1966, only 20 percent of Mississippi’s hospitals had been desegregated. By February 1967 less than half of all Mississippi hospitals had been desegregated, and by October 1969 the number had risen to only 78%.

Laws that have required proof of citizenship have been shown to have a significant negative impact on the African American community. Most recently, Tim Vercellotti, a professor at Rutgers University, found that 5.7% of African Americans are less likely to vote in states that require voter identification.

The phrase “first, do no harm” is often attributed to the Hippocratic Oath that doctors swear to before practicing medicine on patients. As Congress moves forward to address America’s failing health care system they would do well to reflect on this saying over the coming weeks.

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