This post was written by Marcos Contreras, a former member of our team.
When my parents immigrated to the United States, they sought to give their children opportunities they did not have growing up in civil war-torn El Salvador. They sought to provide us an alternative to the reality of child abductions, the approximate 40% percent of households living below the poverty line, and the murder rate that is 22 times higher than that of the U.S (with an average of 15 murders per day in September 2017). They sought to give us better access to education, social mobility, and economic prosperity. In essence, they sought to give us a chance to live the American Dream. But, part and parcel to living that dream is being healthy enough to achieve it.
My family’s story is a story shared by millions of immigrants in the United States of America. It is a story of building a new life and creating new opportunities for themselves and their children. It is a story of hope and of hard work—of working hard to make hope a reality. In the United States, I had the opportunity to attend school safely from the time I was enrolled in Pre-K through the time I graduated from James Madison University. I became a part of the first-generation in my family to secure a higher education. I was also able to become an AmeriCorps VISTA, opening up doors for social mobility. None of this would have been possible without having access to adequate health care. But, for many immigrants, this is often not the case.
While Colorado has made historic gains in health care coverage, we can do more to create opportunities and resources to help our immigrants actualize their American dream. In 2017, twice as many Hispanics as whites in Colorado are still uninsured, as are 28.1 percent of non-citizens. The non-citizen group includes those without documentation, lawful permanent residents, refugees, people with work or student visas, and asylum-seekers, among others. By comparison, just 5.6 percent of citizens in Colorado are without coverage. In the wake of divisive political campaigns, and increasingly hostile rhetoric against immigrants, it can be easy to forget that immigrants fall into a variety of documentation statuses.
At Center for Health Progress, we believe that our health care system should work for all Coloradans, regardless of documentation status. In 2015, an estimated 112,000 of 441,000 uninsured Coloradans did not have proper documentation. These immigrants are not eligible to enroll in Medicaid or CHP+, except in extraordinary circumstances, or buy insurance through our state’s marketplace. Though there are some limited options for purchasing insurance through the private market, it is often far too expensive, confusing, and time consuming to make it realistic. Now more than ever, it is important to consider state options for covering people without proper documentation.
However, while health care coverage is important, we also understand that to make our immigrant communities truly healthy, we need to look beyond health care. That is why we work to champion causes like the I Drive campaign, payment reform, and health equity. I work to support these efforts because they help immigrants with stories like mine be healthy enough to live, work, and play in communities across Colorado. I work to support these efforts because they empower and develop the leadership of immigrants to drive this work further, making space for them to advocate for themselves, their families, and their communities. From the grassroots to the grass tops, we will work tirelessly to ensure all Coloradans, regardless of documentation status, have the opportunity to live a healthy life and a chance at the American dream.