Can We Afford Not to Include 11 Million People in Health Care Reform?

By Sonal Ambegaokar, Health Policy Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center

To date, policy discussions regarding immigrants and health care and other benefits primarily focus on negative stereotypes and myths. As a result, the default policy solution to any issue involving immigrants and benefits is to simply deny the benefits, even when the immigrants are in the U.S. lawfully.  Yet this solution is counter-productive for three main reasons: first, it is not cost-effective; second, it fails to actually address the systemic failures in our national health care and immigration policies; and third, it legally sanctions the exclusion and ostracizing of immigrants as the “other.”

This concept of immigrants as the “other” often helps policymakers and voters justify anti-immigrant policies and prevents us from having   a rational debate. By continuing to allow for exclusion of immigrants from basic, human necessities—health, food, and shelter—as the Senate proposal does, we seem to be conceding to the idea that immigrants are the “other” and that we are not created equal after all.

The Senate proposal requires aspiring citizens to wait 15 years before they can apply for anti-poverty programs such as Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps). They are denied eligibility for the length of their time in provisional status and must wait an arbitrary five years more after receiving a green card in order to apply for these programs. During these 15 years, these lawfully present immigrants will continue to contribute to our economy and help maintain the very programs that they are denied access to through their taxes. This exclusionary policy keeps immigrants in poverty and creates barriers to integration.

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