Commentary

08.26.15

Improving Health Policies for Ohio’s Undocumented Immigrants

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American flag in barbed wire

It’s widely acknowledged that the state of Ohio does not prioritize undocumented immigrants in policy making as much as it could.

Ohio’s undocumented immigrant population is only 95,000, relatively small compared to the national total of 11 million. Yet, an April report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research cited the state of Ohio as the worst state among the 50 and the District of Columbia for policies and laws that support the health and well-being of undocumented immigrants.

Three Exclusionary Policies

Undocumented immigrants face a variety of legal exclusions based on citizenship status. The authors of the report noted that many of the exclusions have a direct impact on undocumented immigrants because of their legal status, influencing health and socioeconomics. The policy areas evaluated included public health, welfare benefits, education, labor, and state identification. Among each of these areas, the report noted:

  • Ohio does not offer Medicaid to pregnant undocumented women and only considers legal status of family members and size in the calculation for SNAP (food stamp) eligibility.
  • Undocumented workers are not included in worker’s compensation laws, and can potentially lose valuable income if injured and unable to work. In the past, worker’s compensation has been offered to undocumented immigrants in Ohio, but recently state legislators have tried to eliminate benefits for undocumented immigrants.
  • Driver’s licenses and government identification are not available, which potentially denies undocumented immigrants from receiving certain public services.

Help on the Way?

Governor John Kasich’s administration has not done much in addressing these issues. As a candidate for Governor in 2010, he supported strict enforcement against undocumented immigrants, but has since suggested that a citizenship pathway should considered. As a member of Congress in the 1990s, Kasich also supported the strict provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which toughened penalties and provided for deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Also read about the economic impact of immigrants in the ACLU of Ohio blog.

Now, localities, such as Columbus, Cincinnati, and Springfield, are implementing task forces to become more “immigrant friendly.” For example, Cincinnati’s task force will focus on initiatives, including economic development, community resources, and education and talent retention—all of which can benefit undocumented immigrants in public health and socioeconomic living. However, other federal and state policies have either stalled in the legislature or face litigation in the courts by conservative opponents.

Undocumented immigrants contributed nearly $73 million in state and local taxes in 2010, and with immigration reform projected as much as $95 million in contributions. Yet, as much as undocumented immigrants contribute to the state of Ohio and the nation, they are still excluded from important public health services. The report also acknowledged that Ohio is not purposefully discriminating against undocumented immigrants, but rather omitting immigrants because of the resident basis for the policies.

Unfinished Issue

In the first Republican Presidential debate, Governor Kasich offered few policy solutions for undocumented immigrants, stating that he had “different solutions” than current frontrunner businessman Donald Trump, but that Trump “is striking a nerve” in bringing up the issue of undocumented immigration.

The bottom line is that Ohio can improve policies for undocumented immigrants, which will ultimately improve public health and socio-economic living of all Ohioans regardless of status—not out of sight and out of mind.

Mike Denis is an intern with the ACLU of Ohio.

 

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