The Biden administration on Thursday rolled out a plan to expand health care access for beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Under the plan, DACA recipients will become eligible to apply for Medicaid and to enroll in Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance exchanges.
DACA beneficiaries are not currently eligible for those benefits, because their immigration status does not meet the current definition of “lawful presence” required to enroll in Medicaid and the ObamaCare exchanges.
Under the administration’s plan, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is preparing a new rule to amend that definition by the end of the month.
“President Biden believes that DACA recipients strengthen our economy and enrich our workplaces, our schools and communities, and our country as a whole,” the White House said in a statement on Thursday.
“That’s why on his first day in office, he called on Congress to give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship and he has repeated that call every State of the Union address since. While Congress has failed to act, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken significant measures to protect Dreamers.”
The measure will be a significant expansion for the DACA program, which allows some Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors — to live and work in the United States.
“Dreamers come from every corner of this planet, but the United States is their home. They are students, teachers, social workers, doctors, nurses, and more importantly, they are Americans,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
“But, of the nearly 580,000 Dreamers who arrived in this country as children and currently have DACA protections, an estimated 34 percent do not have health insurance coverage. Today’s rule would change that.”
It’s a boon for DACA beneficiaries, who face both the threat that the program could end and reduced access to social services where they do not meet the lawful presence requirements.
Though the expansion will benefit the program’s 580,000 existing beneficiaries, their universe is decreasing as younger Dreamers are ineligible to apply — eligible beneficiaries must have arrived by 2007 — and courts have blocked new applicants from accessing the program.
Still, by expanding ACA and Medicaid eligibility, Biden is making it easier for current beneficiaries to stay in the program and in the United States, especially as older DACA recipients reach middle age.
It’s also a political perk for Democrats who’ve called for DACA recipients to receive the same level of social services as other immigrants with work permits.
The left’s enthusiastic reception of the announcement stands in contrast to the constant friction caused by the administration’s more hawkish border and asylum policies.
Democrats who’ve called for expanded health care access for DACA recipients lauded the administration, while taking credit for piling political pressure on Biden to relax lawful presence requirements.
“DACA recipients are an essential part of our community in Nevada and they deserve access to quality, affordable health care,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) in a statement.
“I’m pleased to see the Biden administration is responding to our calls to take this important step and make sure the 12,000 DACA recipients in the state of Nevada, who already pay taxes, can get the health care they need.”
Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), who in a statement said he’d been pushing for the change since the beginning of the Biden administration, said DACA recipients “have been unfairly excluded from the affordable health insurance they need.
“Today’s announcement will give DACA recipients access to the same care as their neighbors and build healthier communities for all of us. In the wake of a pandemic that disproportionately affected immigrant and frontline families, this long-overdue expansion is welcome news,” Castro said.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she’d “long championed” the cause of equal health care access for DACA recipients.
“DACA recipients are our family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. The United States is their home, but for too long they have been denied the basic human right to health care. I applaud this new proposed rule from Secretary Becerra and HHS to allow DACA recipients to purchase qualified health insurance coverage,” said Jayapal.
But some Democrats also pointed out that Dreamers are at risk of losing access to other important social programs.
Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), who together with Reps. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) and Sylvia García (D-Texas) proposed a bill to protect Dreamers’ access to federal housing loans, said he hoped to see a snowball effect of access to social programs.
“Dreamers, who on average were brought here at the age of 6, deserve access to the same basic human rights as everyone else. The Biden Administration’s announcement is a huge step in the right direction that brings much-needed momentum,” Vargas said.
“I hope to continue seeing further advancements for Dreamers — including codifying their access to home loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. This way, we also ensure Dreamers have permanent access to many federal housing benefits that were sadly unavailable during the Trump Administration.”
—Updated at 12:16 p.m.