THE BLOG
06/24/2016 03:27 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2017

Supreme Court Deadlock Keeps Immigrants' Health at Risk

Judy Belk

Eugenio Cuevas and his family were devastated. Eugenio is a father of three and runs a successful small business in Los Angeles. He's worked hard to support his kids' education, and he's paid taxes in this country for more than 20 years. Eugenio is also an undocumented immigrant. Because of the U.S. Supreme Court's even split in United States v. Texas announced on June 23rd, the Cuevas family--and millions of families around the country--will continue to live in fear of being separated and their contributions to our nation will be thwarted.

In November 2014 the Obama administration announced Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The two initiatives build off the administration's successful 2012 DACA initiative and would give certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, or who are the parents of American children, temporary deportation relief and permission to work. Texas and 25 other states sued to stop the initiatives, leading to a nationwide injunction that now, as a result of the Supreme Court's failure to act, will remain in place while the case plays out in the lower courts.

When I met Eugenio a few weeks ago, the pending Supreme Court decision was on my mind. His too. I wanted to understand the real impact on lives, not just the acronyms and political arguments. I asked Eugenio to tell me his story and what the ruling would mean to him if the court cleared the way for implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA. "Peace of mind," he told me. "A chance to live without fear and to pursue more opportunities to provide for my family and keep them healthy."

Eugenio came to the U.S. to work. For 26 years, his skills building and remodeling bathrooms has earned him a faithful clientele. He's worked alongside prominent California designers, and he's employed up to seven people as his business has grown. As the father of three young-adult children, one of whom is a U.S. citizen, Eugenio would qualify for DAPA. Without it, everything he's worked for continues to be at risk. He can't obtain a contractor's license, which forces him to turn down large-scale projects--projects that would allow him to grow his business, continue to support his family financially, and continue contributing to the local economy. In the past, immigration status also made it challenging for Eugenio and his family to access health care, leaving him feeling vulnerable and unprepared to protect his family if confronted with a major medical issue. Raising a family, worrying about their health and wellness, working hard, paying taxes--I could relate.

This news from the Supreme Court is deeply disappointing. But the movement for healthier communities is bigger than one legal case. There is hope. California has made great strides in the last year by allowing children in low-income families, regardless of immigration status, to access affordable health care through the state-run Medi-Cal health insurance program for low-income residents. The state also allows DACA recipients to access state-funded Medi-Cal, and Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill clearing the way for California to ask the federal government to allow immigrants to buy insurance through the state health exchange.

While California is a great example, we're not alone in instituting positive, pro-immigrant policies that will benefit all state residents. A growing number of states and localities, including New York City, are developing or piloting cost-effective models to help uninsured residents gain access to affordable health care, and to make sure immigration status isn't a barrier. New York State, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., are among those that currently provide health insurance to all children regardless of immigration status.

Many states have also taken steps to improve public safety and access to education. Thanks to a California law that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition and to access loans and scholarships, for example, Eugenio was able to afford his eldest daughter's college education. Around 75 percent of the foreign born now live in a state that allows all residents who meet certain requirements to pay in-state tuition, regardless of immigration status. Twelve states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico now allow undocumented residents to obtain driver's licenses.

This Supreme Court ruling is bad for the country. We have a lot of work to do to ensure equity and justice for Eugenio Cuevas and all the immigrants who contribute to our communities. We should all care deeply about these issues because legal status for immigrants allows access to health care, education and jobs--all critical to the health and wellness of individuals, families and communities. Of the 10 million immigrants residing in California, more than 1.5 million would have been eligible for DAPA and expanded DACA. The good news is that state and local governments have begun taking action to ensure that all people are afforded the same opportunities--and assistance when they need it--regardless of their immigration status. Lawsuits like U.S. v Texas that aim to intimidate and diminish the contributions of immigrant communities will only invigorate our efforts to continue fighting for what's right.