Good Health News for Undocumented Young Adults Living in California… But First, the Really Bad News about Detained Migrant Healthcare

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Undocumented migrants in need of medical attention aren’t getting the care they need while being detained, even when they are permitted to check in to actual hospitals, according to a pair of new reports published this week by non-profit NGO Physicians for Human Rights. The reports do not present analyses of statistical data, but contain anecdotal evidence from physicians who have taken issue with the way that immigration enforcement agents have been allowed to interfere with and even restrict patient care.

Collected from interviews conducted last summer, one report presented “egregious violations where medical advice was ignored,” flouting human rights and medical ethics that have, in other political eras, been observed by law enforcement agents. The anecdotes in the report are gut wrenching. One doctor told the PHR researchers that an agent refused to remove the restraints on one of his terminally ill patients, ultimately preventing him from treating the patient for metastatic cancer; it should go without saying that the patient, weeks from death, would not have been a threat to anyone had he not been restrained. But, alas, detention was prioritized over common sense and common decency.

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Of course, detainees don’t have to be terminally ill to not pose a threat to public safety. One physician emphasized to the New York Times that restraining patients to their beds or keeping them under constant supervision “makes sense if you have a prisoner that’s convicted of murder, but this is a different population, especially the asylum seekers.” Constant supervision of patients in a medical setting violates their right to privacy and can leave family members in fear of their own rights — there was one story where a new father was taken into custody as he arrived at the hospital to pick up his newborn. The power differential between law enforcement, patients, and hospital staff can even set the scene for dangerous abuses. The Times spoke to a medical student who stepped in after she saw an armed agent ogling a teenage mother’s breasts as she was feeding her child in a hospital room; the agent was eventually persuaded to give the patient privacy, but the PHR report cited many instances in which agents have refused to leave patients’ sides.

And now, the good news. The PHR reports come to light just as the state of California awaits the final approval of an egalitarian expansion of Medi-Cal coverage so that it becomes fully available to low-income, working, undocumented young adults 25 years old and under. Currently, the state already offers full Medicaid benefits to children of low-income households regardless of immigration status. The idea behind the proposal is that the expansion is an investment in all Californians, documented or not. “While a handful of states cover all income-eligible children and pregnant women, California will become the first state to remove the exclusion for other adults, recognizing our health system is stronger when more people can get primary and preventive care,” an executive director of a healthcare consumer advocacy group told CNBC. The proposed changes are expected to be approved later this week.

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