Illinois All Kids Plan Attracts Immigrants

Published August 1, 2007

Nobody knows exactly how much health care for the children of illegal immigrants costs Illinois taxpayers, but some say it’s too much.

The Illinois All Kids health care program provides uninsured children health care ranging from doctor’s visits to hospital stays, and parents pay monthly premiums subsidized by the state.

Proponents say the program helps children who would not otherwise receive care.

“Governor [Rod] Blagojevich realized that there are thousands of parents in Illinois who worked hard–sometimes two to three jobs–to make ends meet and put food on the table, and yet access to affordable health care for their children was still out of reach,” said Teresa Kurtenbach, spokesperson for Illinois Healthcare and Family Services.

But critics of the program complain it swallows taxpayer money, hurts American citizens, and encourages illegal immigration.

Lit Beacon

Rosanna Pulido, director of the Illinois Minuteman Project–a group that advocates enforcing immigration laws–says the program consumes too much tax money and encourages illegal immigrants to settle in Illinois.

“Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime,” Pulido said, “and it’s turning out that the American taxpayer is footing the bill for the benefits package for illegal aliens. We are now a magnet for all these immigrants in all other states to come to Illinois to get free health care for their children. Illinois is broke. We are broke. It’s not like we have this endless pot of money.”

All Kids statistics offer no insight into how many children of illegal immigrants are enrolled. Kurtenbach said her office does not keep immigration data. Though 22.12 percent of the children enrolled are Hispanic, administrators don’t know whether the majority speak Spanish.

All Kids applications, available online in both Spanish and English, ask applicants to submit proof of lawful immigration status, but the application notes “receiving most public health benefits should not affect a person’s immigration status.”

Unemployed Immigrants

Pulido said illegal immigrants “pretty much just have to show up” to enroll in the program. But Jennifer Ng’andu, a senior health policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)–an organization representing Latinos nationwide–said she doubts a significant amount of resources go to illegal immigrants.

Immigrants, regardless of their status, do not account for the majority of uninsured, Ng’andu said. Children growing up in the United States will someday become citizens, workers, and taxpayers themselves, so current taxpayers can ensure a healthy future by insuring these children, she argued.

But John Keeley, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC, said immigration is a key reason why health care is one of the costliest items in any state’s budget.

“It’s definitely the case that immigration, especially illegal immigration, contributes significantly to our national unemployed population,” Keeley said.

Immigrants do not have health insurance, he explained, because they often work low-wage jobs that do not provide health insurance. Furthermore, he said, their wages are generally so low they can’t afford to purchase their own coverage.

Rising Taxes

Unlimited access to All Kids also hurts veterans and senior citizens, Pulido said, because rising property taxes–directly related to the expense of education and health care for illegal immigrants–forces them to sell homes they’ve owned for years but can no longer afford. Likewise, wounded Illinois veterans are the lowest paid nationwide, she said.

“I believe if we just take it into a smaller context, I used to feed my own kids before I feed the kids down the street,” Pulido said.

Ng’andu said Americans need to look at the broader picture.

“This isn’t about investing in the health of our children or the health of our senior citizens,” Pulido said. “We need to invest in the health of our country as a whole.”

Jillian Melchior ([email protected]) writes from Washington, DC.