Challenging Myths about Immigrants and Immigration: A Seven-Part Series

Immigrants and immigration-related identities are among the many important stories of faculty, staff, and students in our diverse MC community. Thus this series seeks to challenge harmful myths surrounding immigrants and immigration, with each reflection focused on challenging a particular myth. Facts and statistics presented in the series come from a resource called “Common Myths about Immigrants and Immigration in Tennessee” that was developed by Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors (AKIN) and adapted by Blount County United (BCU) Education Committee and Blount County Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). “Common Myths about Immigrants and Immigration in Tennessee,” 2011. 


Fact #5: Immigrants come to Tennessee to work, not to get public benefits. Undocumented immigrants have no access to TennCare, except for emergency care and vaccinations. Less than 1% of undocumented immigrants in Tennessee receive emergency TennCare in a sample month (Congressional Testimony, TennCare Deputy Commissioner). Even for lawful permanent residents, there is a five-year waiting period for most state and federal benefits. U.S. citizen children living with immigrant parents are eligible for some benefits, but they use them less often than children of the US-born, and their participation in the Food Stamps program has decreased by 35% between 1994 and 1999 (Urban Institute). 

Growing up, my family always took extra precautions on avoiding illness and injuries. “Don’t walk around barefoot, you’re going to catch a cold!” or “Can you not play a safer sport than soccer?” were common sayings my mother would always mention to me.

I didn’t understand why it mattered, I just assumed it was because she did not want me to miss school. It was not until high school that I learned that the reason we went the extra mile to stay healthy was because we just couldn’t afford to get sick.

Doctors’ appointments and medicine were expensive without insurance. And it was because of my legal status that I couldn’t get state insurance like TennCare. Even later on in my life, when I obtained legal status through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I was still not able to apply for insurance or any other government benefits.

My family found ways to get help when we absolutely needed it, we would go to a doctor whose fees were based on income or ask extended family for some extra cash if we couldn’t afford the medicine prescribed.

I went to the Anderson County Health Department for my vaccines for school and other necessities. But that’s just my family, I know lots of other undocumented individuals who go without necessary treatment for injuries and illness for as long as humanly possible.

Whether it’s a deep cut from working construction or a hurt knee from playing a game of soccer with family, they would much rather just suffer in silence than seek the help they need. They’re too scared to go to a doctor, they fear deportation for something as “silly” as a cut.

They know that if they get deported, its not just they who suffer, but their families as well. Their children in the states, who would wonder where their parent went, or their family abroad who depends on the allowance they send to survive.

These fears used to be just plain paranoia, one couldn’t get deported for a couple of stiches. In the current political environment, these fears have become a reality. The recent passing of House Bill 2315, going into effect starting January 2019, will allow individuals to be deported for seeking help at a state health department or other state funded services.

We as a community need to help protect our peers and fellow workers. Everyone should have access to medical attention when necessary. No human should suffer in pain for wanting a better life.

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