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More health coverage for ‘Dreamers’ in Biden proposal

The move would open up access to Medicaid and other coverage for certain undocumented immigrants granted protections under an Obama-era policy.

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden announced a plan Thursday to expand federal health care coverage for undocumented immigrants who have been allowed to work in the U.S., among other protections, through their participation in the policy known as DACA.

Short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program was created under the Obama administration so that young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children can remain here without fear of deportation. Advocates often refer to the more than 600,000 people enrolled in DACA as Dreamers, adapting the name of a more extensive bill that never passed, the DREAM Act, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for those who qualified.

“We need to give Dreamers the opportunities and support they deserve,” President Joe Biden said in a video posted to Twitter, referring to the limitations of DACA. While recipients have some access to federal programs, health care coverage has remained out of reach. 

The crux of the plan is for the Department of Health and Human Services to revise its regulations on eligibility for Medicaid and coverage under another signature piece of Obama legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Biden's proposal hinges on Health and Human Services redefining “lawful presence” to include DACA recipients. 

Medicaid, the largest public insurance program, is run jointly by states and the federal government and provides coverage primarily to low-income people. The Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace is designed for people who do not have access to affordable benefits through work.

Similar regulatory changes usually take several months and include a public comment period, but the White House said it expects the rule to be finalized by the end of the month.

Although there’s no uniform guidelines for how long it takes for federal agencies to pass rule changes, they’re typically entered in the federal register for a public comment period before becoming policy. 

The proposal garnered support and opposition along partisan lines. 

“Millions of Dreamers have called our country home since they were too young to remember anywhere else,” Senator Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat, wrote on Twitter. “They deserve EVERY opportunity to succeed and live a healthy life here in America.”

Senator Tom Cotton denounced the administration’s move as “an insult to American citizenship.”

“Rewarding illegal immigration will bring more illegal immigration,” the Arkansas Republican wrote on Twitter.

Former President Donald Trump made the termination of DACA a cornerstone of his candidacy, but the program endured its toughest blow after he left office. In 2021, a federal judge in Texas ruled DACA unlawful and barred the government from accepting new applicants.

The Biden administration has appealed the ruling and sought policy changes to protect the program and its existing participants.

“While Congress has failed to act, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken significant measures to protect Dreamers,” the administration said in a fact sheet released Thursday. “This includes issuing regulations by the Department of Homeland Security to 'preserve and fortify' DACA and fighting political opponents in court as they attempt to strip them of the only home they have ever known.”

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Categories / Government, Health, National

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