The theme of this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month is Honoring our Heritage, Building our Future, and it could not be more appropriate. In just 27 days, the American people, including 13.1 million Latinos expected to cast a ballot, will choose the next President of the United States, as well as officeholders at the national, state, and local levels. It is our vote that will decide the elected officials whose policy choices will shape the opportunities available to our children to build their future. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s celebrate our opportunity to give voice to the needs of millions of Latino children in our country, a growing share of the country’s population and, in particular, a majority of California’s children.
Investing in children today is key to sustaining our national prosperity and making sure every person can achieve the American dream, on their own terms. Studies have found, for instance, that children who were eligible for Medicaid coverage earned more and paid more in taxes as adults than those who were not. Additionally, safety net programs were responsible for cutting the poverty rate for children last year by 10 percent, supporting children’s present needs and future success. Continuing these investments means voting for candidates who support programs that are proven to work in lifting children and families out of poverty and propelling them to opportunity, programs like Medicaid, CHIP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and many others. In fact, many of these programs enjoy bipartisan support thanks to their record of success and their adherence to basic American principles like equality of opportunity.
The health and well-being of our Latino children is directly linked to our future as a state and as a nation. Nationally, Latino children face greater barriers to health and opportunity. Despite recent gains in health coverage, Latino children continue to represent a disproportionate share of the uninsured. In many states, undocumented children remain ineligible for publicly funded health coverage, like Medicaid coverage or subsidized health plans through the marketplaces. Health coverage is necessary to ensure access to health care and healthy growth and development, and we must elect officials who support covering all children—including the undocumented. We must also invest in robust, culturally and linguistically competent outreach and enrollment efforts to ensure Latino children who are eligible for coverage are able to enroll.
In states, like California, where Medicaid is available to all children, regardless of immigration status, fear prevents many parents from enrolling their children. Despite assurances from the federal government that information collected to enroll in health coverage is used only to determine eligibility, families understandably worry that giving their information to the government may impact their applications for legal status or, even worse, lead to deportation. This election cycle’s heated rhetoric around immigrants and immigration enforcement actions in many communities has only exacerbated these concerns.
What is more, immigration status has impacts on children’s health beyond their ability to access health coverage and care. Children in mixed status families—those in which some members are legally residing while others are undocumented—are regularly faced with the fear that a parent or loved one could be deported, and undocumented children themselves, many unaccompanied minors, worry what will happen to them and the new life they were hoping to build. Toxic stress caused by this constant fear has a dangerous and detrimental impact on these children. Supporting candidates who are committed to comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship is not just a matter of American fairness and inclusion; it is vital to the health of our children and our communities.
Though National Hispanic Heritage Month ends this Saturday, all of us, both Latinos and non-Latinos alike, must keep the needs of our nation’s growing Latino population in mind as we head into the voting booth—for the sake of our family, friends, and communities, and the future of our nation.
In California, the registration deadline for voting in November’s election is October 24. To learn about voting in your state, or to register, visit Nonprofit VOTE.