State shouldn't deny help to those who need it most

Friday, February 26, 2010

On the face of it, Gov. Dave Heineman has a good point.

"The key issue is whether illegal immigrants should be receiving taxpayer-funded benefits," the administration said in a letter to legislators Thursday.

At issue is providing prenatal care for pregnant women who also happen to be illegal immigrants.

"This is a difficult issue and we know that there is a disagreement among well-meaning people," the letter said. "After a careful and thoughtful review of the various aspects of the issue, we are opposed to illegal immigrants receiving taxpayer-funded benefits."

Nebraska, in fact, may be the only state that allows yet-to-be-born children to qualify for Medicaid, which it has been doing for nearly 30 years. Last fiscal year, more than 2,800 pregnant, illegal immigrants in Nebraska received Medicaid services.

Last year, federal officials notified the state that it was breaking federal rules by allowing unborn children -- not just their mothers -- to qualify for Medicaid.

In response, Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln introduced a bill, likely to be vetoed by Gov. Heineman, to allow pregnant illegal immigrants to continue to get state-and-federal funded prenatal care.

Without the bill, which would take effect immediately, some 840 pregnant illegal immigrants will lose prenatal care on Monday.

"This continues a practice that's been in Nebraska for 25 years," Campbell said. The practice makes fiscal sense as well. Children who are born here are U.S. citizens, and thus become eligible for medical care that might be unnecessary if their mothers would have received proper prenatal care.

More, indeed, must be done to prevent illegal immigration, but it should happen at the border. Turning away vulnerable people in time of need is not something we do in this state.

Denying pre-natal care to unborn children puts Nebraska officials, especially strongly pro-life officials, in an untenable position.

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