Born in the U.S.A.
by Jan Baughman

Efforts continue to undermine the fate of illegal immigrants in the United States; short of simple deportation and the much-supported notion of border walls one path of least resistance is to attack the children. Movements to deny education to children of illegals have now evolved to the point of revoking funds for prenatal care. In California, ethnocentric governor Pete Wilson jumped on the welfare bill to assess where cuts could be implemented. A San Francisco judge blocked his attempt to cut funds for prenatal care until new regulations can be adopted. And many states are watching carefully.

One can approach this issue from different perspectives, fiscal or ethical. In any case, it's best to start with facts.

Fact: Illegal immigration exists.

Fact: Illegal immigrants have babies.

Fact: Babies of illegal immigrants are U.S. citizens.

It is fundamental to accept the first two facts for until we build a Great Wall along the borders and sterilize those who in spite of this effort make it in, the third fact will remain. Babies are being and will continue to be born. It would be preferable to discuss them as human beings rather than with qualifiers related to citizenship. However; in this case, the distinction is crucial and worth emphasizing: We are attempting to deny prenatal care to a woman because she is in this country illegally and yet it is the child, a U.S. citizen, who suffers.

From an ethical standpoint, one might wonder if Governor Wilson's intention is to minimize the child's ability to thrive or even its likelihood to be born. Numerous studies indicate that prenatal care reduces the likelihood of low birth weight, a major determinant of infant mortality and child health. Infants weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth are approximately 40 times more likely to die during the first month of life than a normal weight infant. Surviving low birth weight babies are more likely to develop health problems such as respiratory conditions and neuro-developmental handicaps.

So, what about the financial standpoint? A 1985 report from the Committee to Study the Prevention of Low Birthweight suggested that for each dollar spent on prenatal care, expected medical cost savings would amount to $3.38 in the total cost of caring for low birth weight infants requiring expensive medical care. (They also stated that "A society concerned with the health and productivity of all its citizens might well choose to reduce low-weight births through additional investments in prenatal care or other approaches even if the budgetary outlays were to exceed savings." Citizen or not, the cost savings remain unless we simply refuse to treat the baby...)

Indeed, this is quite a quandary for our current political and social environment to resolve. The ethical issues are easily dismissed and, why not? We already accept that not all of our citizens have health insurance, not all of our children have food or shelter... And we certainly cannot require of the illegal immigrants birth control or abortion. The financial incentive is compelling and yet ignored. All that remains is to build a wall. Please, write to your Congressman and tell him you want a wall, at any expense, before the situation gets worse.

Published December 03, 1996
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