National News

Immigration Advocates Praise Plans to Expand Health Care Coverage for DACA Recipients

Demonstrators in support of DACA hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 12, 2019. (Photo: CNS/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — A May 3 announcement from the Biden administration that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients would soon be able to enroll in the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance plan was praised as a positive step by immigration advocates.

“Health care is a human right. Access should be universal, regardless of immigration status,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC.

Gallagher told The Tablet that “CLINIC applauds the potential for 100,000 DACA recipients to gain access to vital federal health insurance programs,” calling the move “a step toward healthier communities and families.”

The DACA program was launched in 2012 under former President Barack Obama. It offers deportation relief and work permits to immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children.

On X, Cabrini Immigrant Services of New York City reposted the reaction of Murad Awawdeh, president and CEO of the New York Immigration Coalition, who said the news “offers a lifeline” to DACA recipients, often called Dreamers, “who are American in every way but who until now have been barred from accessing the lifesaving care they need to cultivate healthy lives.”

Awawdeh said, “Everyone deserves access to affordable health care, to ensure the well-being of all families who call America home.” He also said that while this plan shows progress “in advancing health equity for DACA recipients” more work needs to be done “as the DACA program faces ongoing legal challenges, jeopardizing the futures of over 835,000 DACA recipients.”

“The Biden administration must prioritize establishing a real pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, providing them with the security and stability they deserve in the country they call home,” he said.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the new rule will enable an estimated 100,000 eligible DACA recipients to be enrolled in the insurance plan that they were previously excluded from. The rule will take effect on Nov. 1 of this year.

Previously, DACA recipients were not able to enroll in the reduced-cost health insurance plans, also known as Obamacare, but they could receive health insurance from an employer, buy private insurance, or in some places obtain insurance coverage through state and city programs.

“Dreamers are our loved ones, our nurses, teachers, and small-business owners and they deserve the promise of health care just like all of us,”  Biden said in a statement announcing this plan.

While the new regulation will give DACA participants access to the Affordable Care Act’s Basic Health Program, which serves low-income residents, it will not provide them access to two other low-income programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have shown support for the DACA program since it started but they have had a complicated relationship with the nation’s Affordable Care Act.

Catholic hospitals have long emphasized that the poor and vulnerable must have access to health care, but church leaders have objected to the law’s contraceptive mandate, requiring that employee health insurance plans provide contraceptive coverage.