I am a refugee who grew up in Arizona. I am an American, a millennial and a pediatrician. My family immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1993, when I was 2.
Though we may be considered a success story, my family would have likely failed without the supportive immigration policies of that time. Those programs were made possible by voters in the late 20th century. They made our American dream possible.
Yet today, I see the threat and near extinction of the American dream for immigrants like myself because of those who might think their vote doesn’t count. Let me tell you why it does.
We got support to stand on our own
I remember pieces of our immigration story when we came to settle in Tucson. Thanks to the International Rescue Committee, my parents got decent jobs through a program designed to help refugees establish themselves with a stable income.
We had access to doctors for preventative care thanks to Medicaid. Support like that helped us avoid use of emergency rooms, which meant my parents could scrape together funds to get me a small telescope after expressing interest in becoming an astronaut. Several years later, I was gifted a microscope as my interest in biology grew.
These seemingly extravagant gifts on a frugal lifestyle were explained by my mother this way: “Feeding your curiosity and mind was as important as buying food. When we saved enough money, the choice was simple.”
Few immigrants have that support today
In high school, I was drawn to medicine as a way to provide the same support to others that ensured my family’s success. In medical school, I envisioned days as a pediatrician focused on preventing infections and cancer with vaccines, scrutinizing growth charts, and screening, diagnosing and managing all spectra of disease.
As a medical resident, my expectations changed. Recently I treated a teenager suffering from a panic attack because her parents we just deported. Their immigration visas expired, and recent restrictions led to their applications being rejected.
I cared for a mother from Guatemala who struggled to find work due to lack of childcare. Her family couldn’t afford the rising naturalization fees, so her husband wasn’t able to be here to share the responsibility. Many legal immigrants visiting my clinic declined the same aid my family felt comfortable accepting. They fear being labeled a burden on the state and getting deported.
Crucial aid programs are at risk
International Rescue Committee’s funding is at risk, putting the benefits my family once relied on under threat. Medicaid’s enrollment is rising with COVID-19, despite state budget crises leading to potential cuts. Now with looming changes to the U.S. Supreme Court, the threats to the Affordable Care Act could leave millions of Americans without care.
Yet I am standing here thanks to policymakers elected from decades past who believed in the potential and promise of immigrants like me.
Individuals who cast their votes in 1960 elected people who wrote the 1965 Social Security Act, which made it possible for my parents to get me a microscope instead of paying for vaccines. Votes cast in 1971 elected Senator Humphrey, who sponsored the 1977 Food Stamp Act, which gave us access to a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. Votes cast in 1978 helped elect legislators who passed the 1980 Refugee Act, providing the legal basis for my family’s immigration.
Voting can secure them for years to come
And because of all those votes and all of those programs, I will be a physician Arizonans can rely on to care for their children.
So if you question for one minute whether your vote matters, remember there are those who cannot vote who depend on you exercising your civil right. Those who are marginalized, those on the fringes of society, those too young to fill out their ballot, depend on our votes to stay healthy, educated and able to succeed.
I vote because my patients and community can’t afford for me not to. I hope you will join me.
Alona Sukhina, MD, is a physician resident completing her residency in Phoenix and intends to practice general pediatrics in Tucson. Reach her at [email protected].