The immigration bill, unveiled this week by a bipartisan group of senators, would grant “resident provisional immigrant status” to those who entered the country illegally before Dec. 31, 2011. Most would be granted the status for six years if they pay a $500 penalty, have no felonies or more than three misdemeanors, and meet other criteria. They would be eligible to work legally and travel in and out of the country. Immigrants would need to fulfill other requirements to gain full legal status after 10 years. An exception is so-called “dreamer” applicants, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. They could become permanent residents after five years.
The legislation, which also sets strict criteria for securing the border, is expected to generate intense debate in Congress and undergo changes if it passes.
The denial of health coverage to immigrants affected by the bill was not unexpected, because giving them benefits would intensify opposition to the bill. The immigrants also won’t be eligible for federal welfare programs for families and children.
The denial, however, underscores further how tens of thousands of Oklahomans may have little or no access to health coverage after the Affordable Care Act more fully takes effect on Jan. 1.
National Immigration Law Center health-policy analyst Jenny Rejeske said the immigration-bill exclusion defeats the purpose of health-care reform because the goal was to get as many people as possible paying into the insurance system. This allows everyone to purchase insurance at lower rates and keeps everyone covered and healthier, she said.
“(The exclusion) absolutely makes no sense from a health care and economic perspective,” said Rejeske. “This piece is definitely a disappointment.”
When illegal immigrants need health care, they often turn to community clinics and emergency rooms. Many seek care at the last minute due to inability to pay or fear of deportation, said Monica Palmer, director of clinical services at Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City.