Health Justice Advocates Win on Immigrant Rights Issue

By Katie Robbins –

Days after thousands of healthcare rights advocates rallied in Montpelier, Vermont, the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Healthcare is a Human Campaign was successful in forcing the state Senate to strike a harmful amendment from the universal healthcare bill that would have excluded undocumented immigrants from the state’s proposed universal healthcare system.

Among the many activists, labor leaders, and healthcare providers speaking at the May 1st rally was Javier, a dairy farm worker and one of 1,500 undocumented workers in the state. He explained that dairy farming lead him to develop “farmer’s lung,” which is caused by breathing in dust, fungus, or molds. Because he is uninsured, high healthcare costs force Javier to delay seeing a doctor. As a result, he doesn’t know the severity of his lung damage.

Unfortunately, Javier’s story is common. National studies show that immigrants pay more into than they get out of our healthcare system. They are more likely to be uninsured and face barriers to accessing care, while paying more out-of-pocket. Under the new national health law (the Affordable Care Act), immigrants are excluded from Medicaid if eligible for the first five years of residency, and millions of people will remain excluded from the health exchanges because of residency restrictions.

According to Vermont Workers’ Center organizer Kate Kennelstein, this amendment, “is one of many times we have had to defend human rights. It is straight out of the right-wing play book. We need to use it to bring people together rather than allow it to divide us.”

Kennelstein’s fellow organizers, Meghan Sheehan and Sarah Weintraub, see this as an educational moment; a time to have conversations with people about the definition of what universal health care really means. They also recognize that tactics like this are intended to divide Vermonters demanding healthcare reform.

In under a week, the Vermont Workers’ Center collected hundreds of signatures on postcards demanding that the amendment be struck and delivered them to their legislators on Monday morning as deliberations were taking place in the conference committee between the House and Senate. Additional organizing pressure was felt throughout the day with dozens of volunteers filling the committee hearing throughout the 12 hour day wearing large stickers that read “universal = everyone.”

Before the committee meeting was over, legislators agreed to strike the amendment. The power of the people to demand and pressure legislators was inspiring to watch. The Vermont Workers’ Center has shown the country what it means to stand with all of our brothers and sisters in making healthcare a human right for everyone. Together, let’s keep up the fight to make sure universal healthcare truly means universal!

Healthcare-NOW! continues to organize for national legislation to expand and improve Medicare to everyone, guaranteeing health care as a human right to all, and supports the many efforts to start a model in states. To find out more about Vermont, visit and to join the national movement, visit

Everybody in! Nobody out!


  1. tomas smith on May 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    your trying to offer universal health care to persons who are in this country illegally will prevent you from providing health care to legitimate immigrants and US citizens alike!

    your statement that illegals “put more into the system than they get out of it” is absolutely false and misleading, and rather rediculous. illegals use emergency room care at will because they know that by law they cannot be turned away. hospitals never even attempt to bill them, since they often use false names and usually have no fixed address. consequently, the rest of us pay exhorbitant prices for health care, as hospitals increase their charges to make up for those who don’t pay, many of whom are illegals.

    now this issue is beginning to become clouded, thanks to this and other pieces of propaganda. lies will get you nowhere, it certainly will not get me the healthcare that i need, as a citizen and a taxpayer!

    shame on you for lying to the american public! shitheads!

    • John Coktoastin on May 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      I’m all for universal health care, but you are right. The illegals should not be getting it since they are not PAYING taxes into it. Now if we could just get GEand other companies to pay up taxes we could fund this…oh and stop these illegal wars.

  2. Katie on May 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you for writing on this important subject. The reality is that undocumented workers in the US pay billions of dollars in taxes through payroll withholdings and filing with the IRS:

    Because we believe that healthcare is a human right, we mean that every human regardless of job, marital, citizenship, or health status, be able to access health care in the US without financial barriers. When we say “everybody in, nobody out” we really mean everybody! We don’t want a healthcare system that forces providers to check paperwork on immigration status before providing care – that is not a physican or medical provider’s job.

    If US citizens travel to other countries with universal healthcare, we are taken care of without risk of bankruptcy and undue financial burden.

    Because we all pay into the system together, we are all benefiting from building one system that works for everyone. A ‘universal’ system means universal.