Welcome to a new America where you can be Republican and pro-immigrant.
It starts in Nebraska. Nebraska senators voted 30-16 to override Governor Dave Heineman’s veto on LB 599, which allows undocumented mothers to qualify for government funded prenatal healthcare. The state had been funding prenatal care for low-income mothers regardless of their immigration status for 30 years until discrepancies over funding between the state and the federal government ended it in 2010.
The passing of this bill will cost the state $650,000 taxpayer dollars after $1.9 million are reimbursed by federal funds. As expected, the people who opposed this bill argued whether immigrant mothers, who do not pay taxes, deserve to receive health care paid by hardworking tax paying Americans. Governor Heineman’s said it would be unfair for American funds to go to foreigners who are breaking the law.
However, the position of the supporters was equally strong. In a Republican state like Nebraska, it’s very easy to find support for laws regarding unborn babies given that most of the politicians (ironically including the governor) are anti-abortion. Under the logic that life begins at conception, health care may not be denied to babies that will be American citizens upon birth. Denying health care to the mothers is depriving American citizens of the benefits of a healthy life later on.
It’s a “pay now or pay later” issue. Supporters fought to demonstrate that not giving mothers the necessary care will cost the state millions of extra dollars (they estimated $800,000 per baby) if American babies are born with birth defects. Most of these mothers, because they’re undocumented, work low-wage jobs. They cannot afford the appropriate health care pregnancy requires unless it comes from the government. On the other hand, they’re not asking for taxpayer money to have a baby. They only need government assistance through pregnancy, because to be realistic, even upper middle class people have a hard time affording health care in this country.
In the long run, the law benefits the whole state in that it provides a form to attend to the health needs of a community that has been otherwise neglected. The only other undocumented group that qualifies for health care is children. Most health authorities who supported the bill were interested in the control of common in-utero disorders that may affect children permanently like low birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation and premature birth, all syndromes that can be controlled or prevented during pregnancy.
This bill is very significant because it marks a victory for both the immigration battle and health reform. The number of undocumented immigrants is only going to grow in the next couple of years. It’s about time the government snapped out of its denial and began formulating solutions for this community as well as for the health system. For now, we celebrate the triumph of common sense in this recent battle in Nebraska and congratulate all the mothers that will benefit from it.