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Health Care Benefits for Immigrants Favored by MD Court

According to the ruling by Maryland's highest court a group of immigrant children were unfairly dropped from the state's medical// assistance program by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration.

The Court of Appeals voted unanimously that Ehrlich violated civil rights protections afforded by the state constitution when he cut $7 million from the program that provided health care for 4,000 children and pregnant women who were recent but legal immigrants.

The court found "The failure to appropriate monies for medical assistance benefits on the basis of alienage violated the equal protection guarantees . . . of the [state] Declaration of Rights."

The Court of Appeals upheld a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge's preliminary injunction, which opened the way to reinstating the children's benefits. However the high court's ruling does not allow retroactive payments while the case is pending. The case will now go back to the Montgomery court for further action.

Filing of the lawsuit was done on behalf of 13 sick immigrant children, ranging in age from 2 to 17 and suffering from several health problems such as West Nile virus, asthma, a hip disorder and a rare blood disease.

They sued the state, asking that their benefits be restored. Douglas M. Bregman, one of the children's attorneys said, "We couldn't be more thrilled."

Although the ruling applied only to the 13 children, Regan Bailey, a legal aid attorney who represented them said that she hoped that care would be restored to all the immigrants who lost their benefits when the budget was cut.

Bailey said, "The same legal principles apply to all the legal immigrants, children and pregnant women. The governor can't discriminate when he makes budgetary decisions. The Maryland Declaration of Rights ensures equal protection under the law. The court found that applies to the budget process."

Kevin Enright, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the office "zealously defended the governor's policy decision" and will continue to do so. He added that the case will now go back to the Circuit Court for disposition.

Bailey said she hoped for a settlement. She said, "We are considering our options, but the Court of Appeals has agreed with our legal position."


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