The N&O reported Friday on the Governor's Commission on Early Childhood Vision Care, which is working out a plan to spend the $500,000 set aside by the Legislature to pay for eye exams and glasses for poor children. Unfortunately members cannot agree on whether to include illegal immigrants among eligible children. This is simply ridiculous. If children in school cannot see, they cannot learn. If they cannot learn, why should they be in school at all? Perhaps this is where some people on a certain side of the immigration debate are trying to take us. To use an oh-so-tired phrase, let's not go there.
Of course, members of the Commission can dress up their anti-child stance any way they'd like: we can't spend tax dollars on illegals, Medicaid will pay for it, and, a classic, we just want to avoid controversy. Welcome to the Capital, people, this issue was born in controversy. Remember? Jim Black wanted to bar children from kindergarten if they hadn't seen (ha ha) an eye doctor for a full exam. This issue is not where you want to be if avoiding controversy and criticism is your thing. So, let's look (again, ha ha) at the other arguments, starting with tax dollars. We have a set pool of money, it's already there. All we need is to acknowledge that some of the poor kids the Legislature set that money aside for were brought to this country illegally. Does that change their eyesight or the fact that they're poor? No, and, more importantly, it doesn't change the fact that they are children, and their health is all of our responsibility. Next, Medicaid covers only emergency medical treatment for illegal immigrants. Last time I checked, getting glasses has never been an emergency. State. Sen. Harry Brown admitted it's tough to deny children care, still, he said, "I think you have to start somewhere."
As someone whose young son had severe eyesight problems that got by even his pediatrician's eye exam, I can tell you what a difference school screenings and proper vision care make in a child's life. Are we really to follow Georgia and Virginia down their narrow paths of tightening, ever tightening immigrants' access to services we all need? I hope North Carolina's vision of the future proves better than that.
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