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Reshma Shamasunder Headshot

What Immigrant Moms Want for Mother's Day

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Like most moms, Mother's Day for me is an opportunity to celebrate
with my children and family, and reflect upon how deeply I cherish
motherhood. While supporting our children as they grow and adapt to
the world is joyful, we moms face so many challenges along the way --
the pain of watching our child fall off a bike, face hurtful words
from a friend, or experience disappointment at a bad grade. These are
all normal parts of childhood, and as tough as they are, these
difficulties also make our children stronger and more resilient.

But there are some things moms shouldn't have to worry about. Moms
shouldn't have to worry that they have to choose between paying the
rent and keeping their families healthy, between food and a trip to
the doctor.

But these are just the types of impossible situations many immigrant
mothers find themselves in every day. As a country, a few years ago,
we recognized that all individuals should have access to quality and
affordable health care, for themselves and their families. We
recognized that mothers shouldn't have to choose between putting food
on the table or taking a sick child to the doctor. As a result,
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA)and most residents of the
United States from children to adults to seniors will have access to
high quality, affordable health care beginning in 2014.

But this isn't the case for undocumented immigrants, even if they've
lived and worked in this country for years. While about two out of
five undocumented Californians do have health care already, largely
through their employers, many of the rest of these aspiring citizens
are the least likely to have employer-sponsored coverage and will be
ineligible for other types of coverage under the ACA. As the debate
around immigration reform advances, we have an opportunity to ensure a
more inclusive health care system. The Senate will be considering
amendments to their initial immigration reform proposal in the weeks
to come, and they should ensure pregnant women and children on the
pathway to citizenship have access to Medicaid, the Children's Health
Insurance Program, and other available coverage. All immigrants on the
pathway to citizenship, which could potentially take a decade or more,
should be eligible for Medicaid and other programs, perhaps with a
waiting period similar to other immigrants if necessary.

But this is not just a federal issue. States that have been leaders in
integrating immigrant communities and implementing the Affordable Care
Act, such as California, also have a critical role to play in
extending health care to new Americans. In California, legislative
leaders are coalescing around a proposal to ensure existing county
services remain available for the uninsured after January 2014, about
a third of whom will be undocumented. California can and must lead
the way in extending health access to uphold our values of equal
treatment of all individuals and children; to ensure an efficient and
cost-effective health system that benefits us all; and to strengthen
the integration of immigrant communities who benefit our state today
and will be on the pathway to citizenship tomorrow.

This is a critical moment in deciding how we treat aspiring Americans
in the decades to come. The fact is, there is no "line to get in" for
the vast majority of undocumented Americans, many of whom have been
here longer than my own children have been alive. Immigration reform
is our first opportunity in a generation to create a process for
longtime residents of our country to become citizens. But this is also
the moment to ensure we don't have unequal treatment of communities in
our health care system. Our country and states have the chance to
demonstrate leadership by upholding our American values of equality
and fairness.

Because like all of us, immigrant moms have a lot of things to worry
about. Health care shouldn't be one of them.