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Eric Cruz Lopez, speaking at a July 2020 rally in Hartford, CT. Photo: Justin Papp
Eric Cruz Lopez, speaking at a July 2020 rally in Hartford, CT. Photo: Justin Papp

Immigrant-rights activists rally in Connecticut to expand its HUSKY health program to undocumented residents

There are about 140,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state, a majority of whom are Hispanic or Latino.

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On Monday Feb. 1, the HUSKY 4 Immigrants campaign announced on Facebook Live that they are putting forth a bill that would expand Connecticut’s HUSKY health program to include undocumented residents. 

The HUSKY program provides health coverage for eligible children, parents, relative caregivers, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, adults without children and pregnant women within the income guidelines. 

Undocumented residents are currently unable to access any healthcare coverage. They are forbidden from buying into AccessHealth CT, are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, and private insurance companies are either too costly, or refuse applications from undocumented individuals. 

According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 140,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state and a large portion of them are Hispanic or Latino. State data has also shown that Connecticut residents of Hispanic and Latino descent have one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, just behind Black residents. 

Maribel Rodriguez, an organizer from the Western Connecticut chapter of the New England Healthcare District 1199 SEIU union, told WNPR that she sees many workers unable to get health care access on a daily basis because they don’t have coverage or can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs. 

“How are they going to go to the doctor’s if they’re afraid they don’t have the insurance and they don’t have the funds?’ she asked. “And that will not help this pandemic. It will continue to spread this awful pandemic that we are going through.” 

Dr. Julia Rosenberg, a New Haven pediatrician, was among more than 180 healthcare providers that signed a letter addressed to Governor Ned Lamont last April in support of expanding the HUSKY program. 

“Lack of health insurance is a risk not only for those without it and their families, but it’s also a risk to the public health of everyone in our state,” said Rosenberg. 

In an executive order signed on April 8, 2020, Gov. Lamont reduced healthcare costs concerning the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 for uninsured residents, but immigration advocates maintain that it has not been enough to protect an already vulnerable population that’s been experiencing illness and unemployment. 

HUSKY 4 Immigrants believes that Connecticut can and should do better in acknowledging and caring for its massive population of undocumented immigrants, especially during a pandemic that is impacting them disproportionately. 

The group has created a tool where Connecticut residents can send a letter to the State Representatives and Senators of the Human Services Committee, asking them to support the bill and open HUSKY Health Coverage for all state residents, regardless of immigration status. 

Less than a month ago, a family member in Olga Gutierrez’s home in Bridgeport tested positive for the virus, but because she and her family are undocumented, their options were limited. 

“We have not been able to go to the doctor because we are uninsured and we do not have money to cover this,” Gutierrez said. 

Gutierrez is a leader of Make the Road CT, an organization that provides community support to immigrants, and is part of a coalition of immigration advocates and health care groups calling on Gov. Lamont to expand HUSKY Health to undocumented residents. 

“For us being an undocumented family, it has been very difficult to survive throughout these years in this country, but also and especially through this pandemic, Gutierrez said Thursday, Jan. 28 during a teleconference organized by Connecticut Students For a Dream

Not providing health coverage to an estimated 140,000 residents of any state is a public health crisis. When faced with a pandemic that significant impacts these residents, legislators must act. 

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