Op Ed: This Hispanic Heritage Month, I’m Fighting for Immigrant Youth and Their Access to Health Care

By Selenis Leyva

As a proud Afro-Latina, a daughter of Cuban and Dominican immigrants, and a former patient and lifelong supporter of Planned Parenthood, this Hispanic Heritage Month, I am showcasing my Latino pride by urging us all to call for a clean DREAM Act to protect immigrant youth and their access to health care.

President Trump recently rescinded DACA --  the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows young people who are immigrants, also known as DREAMers, to receive certain protections from deportation and allows them to go to school or work to support their families, and in some cases get health care through
 their jobs.

In the five years since we’ve had DACA, more than 800,000 people have benefited; that’s hundreds and thousands of families whose fate is now unknown.

As a mother, I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it would be to be separated from your children, at a moment’s notice, without being able to do anything to stop it. But that is the reality many immigrant parents face today. These are families trying to do their best to get by being torn apart; These are young children who don’t know any other country as their home, being sent to countries where they have no support system. These are parents too scared to go to the doctor, risking getting sicker and sicker, because they don’t know what papers they might be asked for when they walk in the door.

Planned Parenthood is one of the only places that undocumented immigrants can rely on for care, as they see patients regardless of immigration status, and they are a compassionate and affordable option for everyone. I should know, I used to be a patient myself. As a young woman, paying my dues through the acting world,
 jobs were few and far between and often unpaid. As I was working to make ends meet, I turned to Planned Parenthood for my annual Pap test and birth control, as did many of my friends.

Though the recent attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood failed, it’s clear that this fight is far from over. Just last week, we saw an attack on our access to birth control, and we know we’ll continue to see attacks on the basic health care our communities rely on. And we Latinos have the most to lose.

While Latinos were among the groups that benefited the most from the ACA, seeing the biggest drop in uninsurance rates, we still have a long way to go. Undocumented immigrants were left out of the ACA and a greater percentage of Latinas (20%) remain uninsured today than  women of any other group. As a result of these barriers to care, we are less likely than non-Latina white women to have a regular health care provider and more likely to face certain illnesses, like cervical cancer.

We also heavily rely on Medicaid. In fact, 27% of Latinas ages 15-44 are covered by Medicaid. These are the women who would be barred from choosing Planned Parenthood as an option for care if it was defunded -- a resource that serves 500,000 of us a year.

As an Afro-Latina, I know that all Latinos, just like all immigrants for that matter, come in all shapes and size. I’ve seen Afro-Latinas erased throughout Hollywood, and as much as I know that not every role I’m meant to play is a maid or even an inmate, I know that not all immigrants in this country are Latinos, and that among them not all Mexicans are drug dealers or rapists.

We are all deserving of every opportunity this country has to offer and that includes access to affordable health care. No one’s health should be compromised because of their immigration status. President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA will rip millions of families apart and do irreparable harm to communities that already face discrimination and barriers to accessing health care in this country.

I am so proud to be Afro-Latina, for many reasons, but above all, because I know the power and community of my people when we all come together. This Hispanic Heritage Month, I will not silently stand by as DREAMers and DACA recipients of all backgrounds, many of whom are part of the Planned Parenthood community -- a community I relied on for care -- are stripped of their rights and protections.

Now is the time to move forward with legislation that would ensure immigrant youth in this country are able to live a life free from discrimination and the fear of deportation, and have access to health care. That’s why, I’m standing alongside Planned Parenthood and countless immigrant rights organizations, to urge you to call your representatives and ask them to support a clean DREAM Act.