Family, Immigration and Welfare Laws Clash in Court New York Times Reports
The case of an illegal immigrant from Trinidad who is too poor and too sick to take care of her son has the courts dealing with the issue of whether illegal immigrants should receive government assistance such as Medicaid, the New York Times reports. The mother, given the pseudonym Millie Kittridge, as an illegal immigrant does not qualify for most government programs like Medicaid. Her recurrent hospitalizations for sickle cell anemia and lack of medical coverage drained her finances and forced her to repeatedly turn her son, pseudonymed "Sean," over to the New York City foster care system, where he complained of physical abuse and became increasingly difficult to handle. Kittridge's requests for government assistance to help keep her son at home were denied by city agencies because of her immigrant status, and Sean remained in foster care after a caseworker wrote that he should not return to his mother until she was able to care for him "without becoming ill and having to go into the hospital." The Kittridge case is now before an appellate court, and has pitted the state's constitutional duty "to help families stay together no matter their citizenship" against new welfare laws "that deny benefits not only to illegal immigrants, but also to any parent unprepared to work or prove a disability." Lawyers for New York City contend that Kittridge is "not entitled to public assistance," including Medicaid, because she is an illegal immigrant. They also cite the 1996 welfare reform, which aimed to "improve family well-being by moving parents from welfare to work." But Family Court Judge Philip Segal and the Kittridges' lawyers argue that the state's Family Court Act "authorizes the court to order public aid to help reunify families, irrespective of immigration status." They also cite the mother's "fundamental constitutional rights" to raise her child. According to poverty lawyers and immigration experts, the "fundamental issues" of the case -- "reconciling family needs and social goals" -- have been "percolating behind the scenes nationwide as health care and poverty programs discover how hard it can be to help children separately from their ineligible parents." Joshua Bernstein, senior policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center, said, "The orderly-immigration goals have trumped all other goals. And that's going to come back to haunt us." Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, professor of human development and co-director of the Harvard Immigration Project, said the case exemplifies "a human drama that is being replicated thousands of times. The idea that has driven U.S. immigration law and family law is that these kinship bonds are over and beyond other legal or policy practices. What this captures is the ambiguities and contradictions being generated" (Bernstein, New York Times, 11/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.