How School-Based Health Centers Have Become a Lifeline for East Bay Immigrants

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rewire – By Julie Morse

Through a medical-legal partnership in Oakland, attorneys help students and their parents who need assistance reversing deportation orders, applying for visas, and tackling other citizenship hurdles.

Edgar wasn’t afraid when a man appeared by his mother’s car window where he was sitting and strangled his neck with a chain. His younger brother started screaming, and the man took off. Their mother, Guadalupe, who was ordering them lunch from a Mexican restaurant nearby, heard her son’s cries, and came running back to the car and called the police.

This is what Guadalupe told me when I came to interview her at the offices of the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), a teaching clinic based out of University of California Berkeley School of Law that offers free services to low-income residents. Eventually, the police used the restaurant parking lot’s cameras to identify the suspect. He was soon found, and he quickly admitted to the assault. “I was happy that my son didn’t have to testify,” she said.

However, as a result of the attack, which happened back in May, Edgar started having back pain and went to see the doctor at Hawthorne Elementary School-Based Health Center.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), undocumented immigrants like Guadalupe and Edgar are prohibited from receiving health insurance through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Additionally, their families don’t qualify for tax credits to help pay for private health insurance, and they are precluded from buying coverage on the ACA’s marketplaces. Fortunately, in California’s East Bay, school-based health centers (SBHC) provide free clinical health services to anyone under 24 years old, regardless of their citizenship status.

There are around 2,315 SBHCs across the country, and many were established in the 1980s, including the centers in California. Today there are 246 SBHCs in the state, and up until recently, their purpose was to provide accessible clinical and mental health care services and dental care for students. However, since the uptick in undocumented minors migrating in the 2010s, that mission has shifted.

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