We’ve all heard about President Trump’s proposed plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico. But what about the ways in which his Administration’s policies are building invisible walls between immigrant families and opportunity? These walls can separate families and prevent children from accessing education, healthcare, and vital support that will help them lead healthy lives and achieve upward mobility.
In early May, the Shriver Center hosted a Dialogue to explore these pressing issues. With the gracious support of Shriver Center Board Member Jacob Contreras, over 70 friends, advocates, and community members gathered at Google’s Headquarters in Chicago. There we heard a panel of healthcare and immigration experts discuss how the Trump Administration's immigration policies are playing out on the ground—and what they have meant for immigrant families.
Shriver Center President John Bouman kicked off the Dialogue by introducing the moderator—Shriver Center Vice President of Advocacy Jennifer Riley Collins, and three panelists: Stephanie Altman, Director of Healthcare Justice, Shriver Center; Luvia Quiñones, Health Policy Director, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Carrie Chapman, Director of Policy Advocacy and Strategic Innovation, Legal Council for Health Justice.
Collins set the stage by noting the invaluable role that immigrants play in the United States.
“America’s diversity is a source of great strength,” Riley explained. “Historically, when we have welcomed immigrants into the rich tapestry of our union, we have benefited from the hard work, ingenuity, and talent they bring.”
More practically, immigrants make up large shares of important sectors of our workforce, including healthcare, and contribute greatly to the economy and their communities.
But recent shifts in federal immigration policy tear at the fabric of that union. Ramped up deportations and arrests, as well as racially charged and divisive rhetoric, have incited fear, torn families apart, and destabilized entire communities.
How are these attacks affecting immigrants’ day-to-day lives?
Among other things, they have threatened access to basic services and benefits to which immigrants are legally entitled. Out of fear that they or their families will be deported, many immigrant parents in Illinois and across the country have stopped enrolling their kids in publicly funded healthcare programs, like Medicaid.
“I’ve been doing this for 29 years,” Altman explained, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Healthcare isn’t the only thing at risk. Immigrants are also afraid to access other important supports and services for themselves and their families, like food assistance. And fanning the flames of that fear is a recently leaked draft executive order that would target and penalize certain legal residents who apply for public benefits.
As immigrants wrestle with these struggles daily, what’s to be done?
For one, ensuring that immigrants know their rights is key. This means not only educating immigrants—but also service providers tasked with serving them.
“Given their precarious living status and the rapidly changing political environment, individuals must be prepared at every turn to secure their safety,” Quiñones said.
The panelists also pointed out the importance of fighting back against harmful policies on all fronts.
“We can’t look at these issues—healthcare, income supports, labor protections, aggressive immigration enforcement—in isolation,” Altman explained. “We know that families and children need a whole host of supports, especially when coping with such stress and anxiety.”
She listed steep cuts to Medicaid, like those included in the Republican health agenda, as additional attacks that could have harmful effects on immigrant children.
And finally, given the arduous battle ahead, the panelists emphasized that we all must commit to fighting for justice in the long haul.
“I’ve decided that the cost of my white privilege is that I’m not allowed to get tired,” Chapman said. “We can change the direction of this administration if we continue to stand up.”
Following an engaging, thought-provoking Q&A, Collins concluded by stressing that securing justice for immigrant families and communities is crucial to our entire country.
“Ultimately, we are all immigrants,” Collins said. “Our nation’s collective future is tied up with the well-being of everyone. We must tear down every single barrier or wall to opportunity for all.”