There are resources to help you get what you need.
On January 11, 2018, the ACLU reported that yet another undocumented young woman was being denied access to an abortion. For those of you keeping track, this is the fourth time this has happened since the advent of the Trump administration. The profusion of these accounts is not only disturbing because, as Nikki Jacobson, a Los Angeles immigration lawyer put it, “they will find anyway to deny someone an abortion,” but because of the fear it spreads among undocumented folks looking to access any kind of health care. (This is your reminder that abortion is, in fact, health care.)
So if you’re undocumented, what are the barriers to obtaining sexual and reproductive health care, and how can you get the care you need?
Laura Berger is an immigration lawyer in New York City. She cites detained immigrants as being the most vulnerable to destructive policies regarding sexual and reproductive health. It’s these facilities that are denying access to abortion for minors, even in cases of rape, and crisis pregnancy centers play a major role in deterring them from even wanting to seek the procedure.
Of course, affordable healthcare is an issue for all of us, but it’s particularly relevant for folks who are undocumented. “Most undocumented adult immigrants in the U.S. are ineligible for Medicaid,” says Berger. This is not the case in New York state, where undocumented pregnant women can register for Medicaid, and those who have an application in to change their immigration status can also apply. Private insurance plans aren’t necessarily going to help you out either, since you might be asked to provide a Social Security number or other formal identification. According to Berger, “That means that the approximately 11 million undocumented people in the United States have additional financial hurdles when they try to access reproductive healthcare.”
“If I have an undocumented client in crisis,” she says, ” I can usually find a way for them to access reproductive health or mental health services. In other cities and states, it can be much more difficult.”
The role fear plays in creating a barrier between undocumented individuals and health care cannot be underestimated. It impacts everything from seeking out birth control (you need a prescription, which means you need ID) to going to the doctor.
“The fear of losing custody should a legal deportation process arise scares moms and dads daily,” says Renata Castro, of Florida’s Castro Legal Group. Fear is also deterring those who might otherwise rely on reproductive technologies, such as IVF, to have children from doing so. In addition to fear, Castro points out, other obstacles include language barriers and a lack of money. Says Castro, “The issue of reproductive health extends beyond delivery of a child, for those without immigrant status.”
Many undocumented folks utilize urgent care centers and emergency rooms, where they can’t be turned away and can pay out of pocket. Another route to health care was to travel out of the country, but that’s been made infinitely more difficult and dangerous since Trump took office, says Nikki Jacobson. She recommends that undocumented people get ID and other legal documents at the embassy of their country of origin, and contact immigration organizations, who often provide grants for healthcare. Because of the fear of being targeted, most of these organizations don’t advertise their resources.
According to Laura Berger, allowing undocumented people to apply to public and private healthcare programs would do a great deal in the way of creating access, in addition to investing in and creating those non-profits that already help the undocumented. While these tactics would benefit hospitals in the long run (emergency services are more expensive, and fewer people would have to access them if they had been getting preventative health care all along), she emphasizes that this is also a moral issue. “We should care that people in our communities aren’t sick or dying because of a lack of access to resources.”
There’s no excuse for limiting one’s ability to get sexual and reproductive health care. “Access to abortion is a constitutional right, regardless of immigration status” says Berger.
Jacobson also stresses that undocumented people should know that they can challenge unlawful barriers to obtaining healthcare: “You have rights to your own body.”
Cover image courtesy of Getty Images