Meeting the Health Needs of the Undocumented in Kansas City

It is estimated that there are over 100,000 undocumented immigrants living and working in Missouri and Kansas. These folks came here illegally to work in jobs that most Americans are unwilling to pursue. The federal and state governments have laws that say no undocumented immigrant can apply for Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. In Missouri, undocumented immigrants cannot apply for a driver’s license. They also cannot receive federal financial student assistance or attend a Missouri public university or college even with their own resources. Now some nonprofit agencies are considering establishing additional road blocks for the undocumented to receive adequate health care.

But what happens when one of these families develops a health condition that is not treated and this health condition starts affecting the rest of us? What happens when an undocumented resident marries an American citizen? Do we provide support for the child but not for one of their parents? After working in our country for many years, is it fair not to allow the undocumented immigrant the opportunity to pay his/her own way to college? Who are we really punishing?

Clearly we need a more fair and equitable national immigration policy. Washington seems unable to reach consensus on this topic just as they have not reached consensus on many other issues in the last few years. Their inaction does not make this issue go away. We need a federal immigration policy reform law passed.

Until then, the religious community, foundations, some non profits and many food kitchens are providing some necessary support to undocumented immigrants in times of need. I find it hard to understand how large health related agencies and the federal and state governments can refuse to pay for health care and preventive services for undocumented immigrants. As a nation, we are better than this!


Times have changed since we promoted immigration as a way of building our nation. But I shudder to think how different U.S. history would be had we withheld education, health care, housing and other basic social goods from people who may have lacked proper paperwork but they were willing and able to help us create a better quality of life. So so many of us in the U.S. are the descendants of those very people. Every day we enjoy their legacy to us. As a result, the new anti-immigration sentiment feels embarrassingly un-American.

After one of the tragic assassinations of the 60s—perhaps King’s or Robert Kennedy’s—there was a very moving political “cartoon” that showed the Statue of Liberty on one knee, her torch lying on the ground beside her while she wept into her bent arm. That image comes back to me every time I hear the bitterest, most virulent immigration critics.

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About Me

Steve Roling

Steve Roling

Steve Roling is the President/CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. Each week he blogs about issues that inspire him as we work toward eliminating barriers to quality health.



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