Provisions in the initial draft of the Senate Finance Committee’s health reform proposal dealing with immigration issues has sparked outrage from immigration reform advocates. Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, on a conference call with reporters, Sept. 16, charged Senate Democrats with bending too far, with apparent approval from the Obama administration, in response to misleading or fabricated Republican claims about health reform legislation and immigrants.

In addition to barring undocumented immigrants from receiving public assistance for health insurance, the newly unveiled Senate Finance Committee package apparently would also prevent undocumented immigrants from using their own money to buy private insurance through the proposed insurance exchange, and may even force undocumented immigrants who receive employment-based insurance currently to lose that coverage.

Provisions in the draft proposal also seem to bar legal immigrants from public insurance programs for at least two years. Such proposals are likely to negatively impact citizen children of immigrant families, Sharry revealed.

Sharry strongly denounced Republican claims that health reform would provide public resources for undocumented immigrants or that no verification program exists as “patently false.” He pointed out that the reform package already excludes undocumented immigrants from receiving public resources to get insurance, and that the SAVE program in the Department of Homeland Security ensures that undocumented immigrants are excluded from federally funded public programs.

“The effort by the Republicans to demagogue the debate has been unfortunate,” Sharry remarked. For the Democrats’ part, he added, it is also unfortunate “that instead of standing up to this demagoguery, they have validated it” by adding measures to the bill that would punish undocumented and legal immigrants and even the citizen children of immigrants.

“The politics of health reform now is to dump on immigrants even if it is bad policy,” Sharry added.

The “unprecedented” Senate provisions are bad public health policy and would impose severe hardships on people who are legally present in the US as well as citizen children of immigrants, said Luis Cortez, president of the Hispanic evangelical network Esperanza USA. “We are seeing a demonizing of immigrant people whether they are undocumented or not,” he explained.

Cortez warned Senate Democrats that if the anti-immigrant measures in the Senate Finance Committee bill go unfixed, they could face strong challenges from Latino voters at election time.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told reporters that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus understood the current political realities and agreed to support health reform that denied public funds to undocumented immigrants. “But why use the demagoguery against immigrants to deny them care? It’s bad public policy,” he stated.

Gutierrez, an early supporter of Candidate Obama, added that he personally would have to rethink his position on the health reform package as it moves forward through the legislative process. “I need to revisit this. We need to fight and make it better. We need to make it accessible,” he said.

Eric Rodriquez, vice president of the National Council on La Raza, expressed strong concerns about the Senate Finance Committee proposal. 28 million legal immigrants live in the country, and 7 million of them are uninsured. About 4 million children who are citizens come from families with mixed legal status. Making sure that health reform is crafted to accommodate these realities is essential, he said. “These are not insignificant issues or marginal issues.”




Joel Wendland
Joel Wendland

Joel Wendland works in higher education. He was previously editor of Political Affairs magazine. He is a union member and a US Army veteran. He is working on a collection of essays for a book, writing a new collection of poetry and tries to find environmentally-friendly alternatives to everyday living. Become his friend on Facebook. Follow Political Affairs on Twitter.