Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

The Justice of Covering Immigrant Children in SCHIP

Emilie Wolf


October 28, 2011
by Emilie Wolf

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was passed during the Clinton administration in the 90’s, and then re-authorized by Congress in 2009. Why then is this still a prevalent issue to consider under the scope of justice? As Christians are part of the greater political community, we are called to seek justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8). One of the most contested parts of the re-authorized version of this federal health program was the waiving of the five-year waiting period for legally present migrant children and pregnant women.

According to research from the National Conference of State Legislatures, the number of children in immigrant families has risen seven times higher than the number of United States-born families. They are more likely than those with United States-born parents to live in poverty and are less likely to have health insurance and to receive medical care. Clearly, this is a vulnerable segment of our community that not only is in desperate need for this program, but is also continuing to grow. Waiving the five-year waiting period greatly expanded coverage to low-income uninsured children.  SCHIP is a federal entitlement program designed to provide services for the children who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance.

In a just society we are called to care for our neighbors in need. Legally present migrant children are neighbors in need even though they are not citizens.  One important way we care for our neighbors is by allowing them access to healthcare services. If healthcare had remained inaccessible to this vulnerable group because of the five-year waiting period, they would in turn place a heavier the burden on the healthcare system when they finally qualified. If justice calls us to seek the greater good for our community, then shouldn’t we take care of our children’s health?

It is estimated by the National Conference of State Legislatures that one in five children under 18, approximately 14 million, is either an immigrant or is a member of an immigrant family. It is an injustice to our community and the well-being of our children, U.S.-born or legally present, to prevent or make it difficult for children to receive the care they need to maintain their well-being.  While legally present migrant children are not technically citizens, they are operating within the law, so why should they be punished? Opponents of this program cite a more limited role of government, budget issues, and the projected path of federal healthcare reform.

While there are spheres of sovereignty in our community, such as the family and church, there is always a gray area where it becomes unclear what is the government’s responsibility and what is the private for a vulnerable segment of our society without another viable option.  While it is important for the church or the faith-based non-profit community to provide services to those in need, as the Center for Public Justice Guideline on Welfare states, sometimes the government does need to step in. In the case of SCHIP, states can choose how they want to use their federal funds, within provided parameters.   As a Christian community we need to make an effort to make political decisions based on our faith, with open hearts for those less fortunate. 

—Emilie Wolf is an intern at the Center for Public Justice.


“To respond to the author of this Commentary please email:
Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”