Navigating through Uncertainty: Immigration and Use of Social Services

“Tremendous fear” reducing participation in the Hudson Valley.

Many MHVC partners providing health care to migrant and immigrant communities are facing additional challenges to care as this patient population increasingly withdraws from services due to fears of deportation. “It is heartbreaking to hear that families are disenrolling from WIC, Medicaid, and other social service programs.” said Dr. Damara Gutnick, MHVC Medical Director.

The effects are especially acute for children who are U.S. citizens yet fear that their parents or grandparents (who are often caregivers) may be deported. Shelley D. Carolan, DO, a pediatrician at Crystal Run Healthcare in Haverstraw, said, “I am writing letters to lawyers stating that these children, who are citizens, cannot be without their parents. They are living with increased anxiety and worry.” Crystal Run has a large immigrant population at their Haverstraw site (85-90% Latino) and neighboring Spring Valley has a large Haitian community.

Dr. Carolan and others are helping patients and families gain access to legal services. “We are providing information from social workers and the Legal Aid Society so they know their rights, and where they can  go to get help. We are happy to provide this information to other MHVC partners who want to disseminate it.” Information is provided in Spanish and English; the materials include a step-by-step guide for family preparedness and a child care plan.

These community members are vulnerable and often need services the most, Dr. Carolan said. “They are fearful of paperwork and legal issues. These patients have to worry about putting food on the table and now there is another thing to be concerned about.”

Martha Robles, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Community Services in Haverstraw, concurred. “We have seen a lot of people withdrawing food stamp applications, closing their cases with the department of social services, and not showing up for clinic appointments. There is tremendous fear.”

“We have the ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign with materials provided by Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York,” Robles said. “These multilingual materials are provided to the legal, law enforcement, and immigrant communities, so they can work together.” Working with and gaining the trust of the community seems to be working. “We are lucky here, since the police and sheriff’s departments are working with us and Catholic Charities first, before involving ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement].” Police departments in Suffern, Spring Valley, and Haverstraw have been helpful. There has even been participation by local Assembly representatives.

“We are doing a significant amount of outreach,” Robles said. “We are trying to make it known that churches are safe places. We have forums for ministers, share basic information with the parishes, and have outreach programs. We have expanded our hours, and are part of a very active immigration coalition with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley and other partners.” Emphasizing the scale of the problem, Robles said her team has helped over 500 people in the last few weeks. “This is a very real problem impacting the health and wellbeing of vulnerable populations in our Hudson Valley communities.”

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