Substantial Cruelty Sanctioned by US Government

I read a New York Times article titled “Medicaid Wants Citizenship Proof for Infant Care.” It bothers me…a lot.

The Bush Administration announced that as part of a “new federal policy,…children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants with low incomes will no longer be automatically entitled to health insurance through Medicaid.”

When an undocumented woman has a baby in the US, the baby is automatically a US citizen. The socio-economic status of most undocumented folks means that the babies qualify for Medicaid coverage. “Under the new policy, an application must be filed for the child, and the parents must provide documents to prove the child’s citizenship.”

“Dr. Jay E. Berkelhamer, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the policy ‘punishes babies who, according to the Constitution, are citizens because they were born here.'”

This policy represents the institutionalization of substantial cruelty. It is abhorrent that undocumented parents now have to file an application for medical care for their newborn children. An undocumented parent must choose to essentially disclose to the government that they are undocumented in order to receive medical care for their child.

The first aspect of substantial cruelty, according to Hallie, is that it maims someones dignity and crushes their self-respect. Having to choose between being possibly deported and the health of your child is an awful choice to have to make.

The second aspect of substantial cruelty is that its built into social institutions. The federal government is the most powerful social institution in the United States.

The third aspect of substantial cruelty is that it works at the edge of awareness. Most folks in the dominant paradigm – White, Middle Class, Educated, Heterosexual, Documented, etc. will never have to have their dignity stripped from them. In fact, they are protected by the same institution that is maiming and “othering” people in marginalized groups.

Lastly, substantial cruelty can only occur if a power disparity exists. Undocumented residents of the United States have almost no institutional power.

“Marilyn E. Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Medicaid program, said: ‘The federal government told us we have no latitude. All states must change their policies and practices. We will not be able to cover any services for the newborn until a Medicaid application is filed. That could be days, weeks or months after the child is born.'”

“Dr. Martin C. Michaels, a pediatrician in Dalton, Ga., said that continuous coverage in the first year of life was important because ‘newborns need care right from the start.'”