As a society, we have a “family secret”: We accept in-house ongoing violations of human rights. We deny and limit illegal immigrants' access to social, educational, medical, and mental health services.
Many community agencies addressing the needs of low-income and culturally diverse populations serve illegal immigrants. However, we do not dare document the magnitude of the problem or even talk about it. Our silence seems self-protective, because using public funds to serve illegal immigrants is, in many cases, a violation of our government contracts. We believe our reasons are altruistic, since defending and voicing the human rights of illegal immigrants jeopardize the access to services that other low-income groups have. As helping professionals in community agencies serving vulnerable groups, we too often assume we are powerless to change the situation, fearing the financial consequences.
Our society has overlooked the long-term impact and social cost of denying illegal immigrants access to educational and preventive healthcare services. We do not provide access to early intervention or routine care but pay the bill for emergency care. Yet as a society are we really better off, and are we really saving money, by denying illegal immigrants' access to care? What is the moral cost to our society and our principles?
The least we can do is talk about what is going on and what will happen to the integrity of our ethical principles if we continue to deny illegal immigrants access to much needed services.
Sonia Carbonell, PsyD, Centro de Psicologia Cultural and La Maestra Community Health Centers—Family Wellness Unit, San Diego