My Immigrant Story: Thu Quach

Thu Quach, Ph.D. delivered remarks at a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C. on April 10, 2018 discussing the harm being caused by the administration’s policy proposals around immigration and access to health care and other public services. The following is a transcript of Dr. Quach’s remarks.

My name is Thu Quach, and I work at Asian Health Services, a community health center in Oakland, CA. Today, I want to bring the voices of our 28,000 immigrant patients and our 500 staff to DC.

A five year old girl arrives at San Francisco airport with her parents and two siblings. They had literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. In those first years, they relied on Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, and housing assistance. It was the little lift they needed to begin a new life in a new country. That little girl grew up to dedicate her life to the health field. While she could have work anywhere else, she chose to work at a community health center serving immigrants, because she remembered what it was like as a new immigrant. That little girl is me.

A young Thu Quach is pictured with her siblings in Santa Cruz, Calif.

My story is not uncommon. It is the story of our doctors and our front line staff at Asian Health Services. We are drawn to work here because we ourselves are immigrants in a nation of immigrants. And the temporary public assistance we have received as new immigrants, we have paid it back by multi-fold.

We have assisted tens of thousands of new immigrant patients onto to health care and other benefits programs to give them a little lift in their early resettlement period. Our doctors have helped deliver beautiful babies for immigrant moms, and watched as those babies grow up to become accomplished and compassionate adults, giving back to this nation. We have witnessed immigrant patients, even with limited resources, donate generously back to our health center and volunteer their time to “pay it forward.” We see the countless contributions that immigrants have made to this nation.

There is an aggressive effort to undermine our immigration system and to unjustly and cruelly target our immigrant population (again). It is based on a flawed logic that immigrants use more benefits than those born in this country.

But in fact, analysis of data from the 2015 American Community Survey show that rates of use of benefits programs are comparable and possibly even slightly higher for U.S.-born citizens compared to immigrants. Results also show that the three-fifths of immigrants using public benefits programs are working individuals compared to less than half of US-born citizens using such programs. These programs help support working individuals to maintain their health and well-being to continue to be self-sufficient. Now these cited trends are not intended to establish worthiness of any groups, but rather to dismantle misleading narratives of immigrants as overwhelming users and abusers of benefit programs.

Even more egregious is the profiling of immigrants that is built into the public charge determination. The rule allows for using health and other factors, like family size, education and this latest leaked draft that even included English proficiency as a skill to determine if the individual is likely at any time to become a public charge. This sets immigrants up to be caught in a “web of pre-determination,” regardless of what they may or may not use.

Even before the proposed policy changes are introduced, we have already witnessed their chilling effects, with our patients dis-enrolling from programs and fearful of seeking care. One of our sister clinics shared that during this awful flu season, their urgent care site was completely empty. This was right after the leaked draft came out in February. We know that these fear-based responses will no doubt lead to long-term health consequences for our patients at-large.

We, at Asian Health Services, fear a repeat of the tragedy of what happened to some of our patients in 1997 where a mother of twins had her toddlers stripped away from her at the SFO airport while she was sent back to China. She was accused of being a public charge and asked to pay back $40,000 right there and then. Despite the fact that she had delivered her babies with Medicaid insurance legally, she was barred from re-entering the US and raising her kids. This can become a likely reality again for our patients.

We know that the most vulnerable among us can and will one day be the most vital and caring productive citizens and leaders. Our personal stories and our service are a testament to the value that immigrants bring to this nation.

The Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations — dedicated to promoting advocacy, collaboration and leadership to improve AA and NHPI health.

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