Universal Means Everyone! Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign Fights Undocumented Immigrants’ Exclusion

The Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign, run by the Vermont Workers’ Center, is engaged in an urgent struggle to remove a last-minute amendment from Vermont’s health reform bill, which would exclude undocumented people – including dairy farmworkers – from the supposedly "universal" health care system. The Campaign, its allies, and numerous Vermont constituents are sending strong messages to their legislature and governor, making it clear that standing up for the human right to health care means standing up for everyone in Vermont. People have human rights by virtue of being human. The Campaign and its thousands of supporters are demanding that everyone be included and treated equally – that is what Vermont’s universal health care system should be about.

James Haslam, director of the Workers’ Center, summarizes the call to action as follows:

"The vote on the universal healthcare bill H.202 saw politics at its best and at its worst. At its best, because the participation of thousands of Vermonters in the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign convinced a strong majority in the Senate to pass a historic universal healthcare bill. At its worst, because a majority of senators also approved an amendment to make the bill less than universal, in a cynical political move to appeal to hatred and intolerance.

[…] But it should come as no surprise that just as we are establishing the commitment to universal healthcare there was a last desperate attempt to undermine our social solidarity by pitting Vermonters against each other. To our knowledge, if passed this would be the first Vermont law to discriminate against people because of their federal immigration status and would set a very bad precedent.

We need to send a loud and clear message that Vermont is not Arizona (which passed a law last year to criminalize and scapegoat immigrant communities). When we say healthcare is human right, we mean for everybody who lives and works in Vermont regardless of legal status. We will not tolerate racial profiling and accept the unjust immigration and foreign policies of the federal government. We can do better than that. That is what our universal healthcare system is about. It would not be universal if groups are left out based on this kind of criteria. When we say health care for all, we mean for all!"


Below is the open letter, which Vermont residents can sign here and send a direct message to their legislators here.

Dear Legislator:

On Tuesday, April 26th, the Vermont Senate passed H.202, Vermont’s universal healthcare bill, and sent the bill back to the House for that body’s approval. Unfortunately, at the last minute Senator Brock (Franklin County) and Senator Sears (Bennington County) offered an amendment that would exclude undocumented Vermonters from participating in our "universal" system, and this harmful amendment was accepted by the Senate. The debate on the Senate floor suggests that there were a number of senators who might have misunderstood the implications of the amendment.

The Brock-Sears amendment destroys the universality of our healthcare system by attempting to deny individuals their human right to healthcare. Not only is this amendment inhumane and unjust; it is also unwise. It discourages people from seeking care for small things before they become big; it fragments our healthcare system, and it puts healthcare providers in the position of enforcing unjust immigration laws. […]

We reject efforts to divide Vermonters along lines of ethnicity or national origin. We reject efforts to create barriers to the exercise of human rights. We reject efforts to weaken our healthcare system that is based on human rights.

We call upon our elected representatives to strike the Brock-Sears amendment from H.202, so that our healthcare system can be truly universal and uphold the human rights of all Vermonters.


Media coverage of this call to action:

Health care amendment draws fire
Peter Hirschfeld, Vermont Press Bureau, published in the Times Argus & Rutland Herald, April 29, 2011

MONTPELIER — An amendment to the health care reform bill that would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving medical benefits has drawn heated criticism from some of the legislation’s most ardent supporters.

In a recent Web post titled “We are not Arizona!” the Vermont Health Care is a Human Right Campaign urges its several thousand members to oppose what it calls “the first Vermont law to discriminate against people because of their federal immigration status.”

Peg Franzen, president of the Vermont Workers Center, which spearheads the campaign, said the provision unfairly targets undocumented workers, many of whom, she said, fill a critical void in the state workforce.

“People that keep our farms functioning would not be able to access health care,” Franzen said Thursday. “They play a vital role in our economy, and they should be able to access our health care system.”

[…] Dr. Deborah Richter, founder of Vermont Health Care for All and a prominent supporter of a single-payer system, said it’s in Vermont’s own economic interest to include as wide a swath of the population as possible in the universal system, including illegal immigrants. Excepting them from the pool of potential beneficiaries now, she said, unnecessarily limits the state’s options down the road.

She recalled treating an illegal immigrant whose malady had grown so acute that he needed an expensive hospital procedure to stay alive. Vermont will never turn away illegal immigrants in need of emergency care, she said, so it’s in the state’s own interest to offer the kind of preventative care that would avoid costlier surgical interventions.

“If you want to look at it from an economic perspective, this is preventing a cost shift onto the rest of the paying population,” Richter said. “And from the moral angle, it’s allowing a vulnerable population to seek the kind of care that will prevent them from more complicated conditions later on.”

Activists decry exclusion of undocumented workers from H.202
Anne Galloway, VTDigger, May 2, 2011

An undocumented Mexican migrant worker named Javier wouldn’t give his full name or say what county he lives in for fear of deportation. In spite of his apprehensions, however, he stood in front of the Statehouse on Sunday and told a crowd of May Day activists that the health care reform bill they had worked hard to support included a provision that discriminates against undocumented workers. Javier’s remarks were translated by an interpreter.

“This amendment appears to be a discriminatory act to exclude us from the health care proposal,” Javier told the crowd.

Javier, who has farmer’s lung, said he would not be able to receive medical attention if H.202 passes because he would not be able to afford to pay for his care out of pocket. Doctors have suggested that he undergo testing because they suspect he has fibrosis. Javier said the expense makes further diagnosis impossible.

The Vermont Farmworker Solidarity Project and the Vermont Workers Center has organized a lobby day today to pressure lawmakers to reverse the amendment, which they say runs counter to the fundamental principles of health care for all. They are also holding a press conference on the Statehouse steps to make their case to reporters at noon on Monday.

About 1,500 to 2,000 undocumented dairy workers from Mexico are employed by Vermont farmers and they are credited with helping to keep the dairy industry solvent at a time when few Vermonters are willing to work on farms.

Universal health care means universal, David Karindler, an organizer with the center, said.

“This is the first time such hateful language has been put in legislation,” Karindler said. “We’re all about inclusion in this state. This is the first time exclusion has become part of a bill. […]

Karindler said Sen. Randy Brock, R-Grand Isle-Franklin, went out of his way to redefine what a resident was.

“It was strategic in its divisiveness,” Karindler said. “To suddenly frame things around undocumented workers seemed calculated.”

[…] Rep. Mark Larson, D-Burlington, and chair of the House Health Care Committee, said lawmakers will likely re-examine the amendment as part of a larger review of the legislation during the conference committees, which take place on Monday starting at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Larson is also dismayed by the turn of events.

“My focus is on trying to create a health care system that works for our state and I don’t want to get into a focus on whether my senate colleagues are racist or not,” Larson said. “I appreciate why people are upset about the amendment and the significance the issue has in terms of whether all people will be covered by Green Mountain Care. I also understand that national immigration policy isn’t very helpful at this point.”

In the past, Vermont used state dollars to cover health care costs for undocumented farm workers, according to Larson. Under federal rules, Medicaid money can’t be used. That policy would carry through under Green Mountain Care, Larson said, because part of the funding for the single-payer system would come from Medicaid. The state would have to come up with an alternative funding source. Currently, farmers, federal health centers and volunteer groups help workers with care, though in some cases health care providers end up shifting the cost to other patients.

Vermont’s Single-Payer Health Care Bill Ignites Debate Over Covering Illegal Immigrants, April 30, 2011

At least one roadblock stands in the way of Vermont’s path toward becoming the first state to adopt a single-payer health care system: coverage for illegal immigrants.

The state Senate, which passed its version of the bill this week, added a last-minute provision that would bar illegal immigrants from being covered under a state-run insurance program the bill envisions setting up called Green Mountain Care.

The move outraged immigrant advocates.

"When we say health care is a human right, we mean for everybody who lives and works in Vermont regardless of legal status," the Vermont Workers’ Center said in a statement."We will not tolerate racial profiling and accept the unjust immigration and foreign policies of the federal government. We can do better than that."

[…] The Vermont Workers’ Center and other groups have been lobbying against the Senate amendment under the rhetorical battle cry "Vermont is not Arizona!"

"We as Vermont are one community, and are proud to distinguish ourselves from states like Arizona that pass legislation excluding people based on their immigration status," one activist wrote in an e-mail to state Sen. Richard Sears, a Democrat and amendment sponsor.

[…] The issue has struck a chord with a broad swath of human rights supporters and has raised what has been a key immigration issue in the state in recent years: the estimated 1,500 to 2,500 immigrant farmworkers who provide crucial labor to the state’s dairy farms but who often remain in hiding for fear of deportation. […]

Coverage For Migrant Workers Sticking Point In Health Care Negotiations
John Dillon, Vermont Public Radio, Monday, May 02, 2011

(Host) With the Legislature entering what is supposed to be its final week, a large crowd gathered at the Statehouse yesterday to support a bill that would move the state toward a single payer health care system. […]

A farmworker named Javier addressed the crowd. He said he has a condition known as farmer’s lung but can’t afford the tests to determine how far the disease has spread. Javier’s remarks were translated by Brendan O’Neill of the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project.

(O’Neill) "So if we don’t have access to health care, that’s how this sickness can become a big problem. To conclude, it seems to me like this proposal is a discriminatory act to exclude us from this health care plan." […]