WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday said his administration would expand health care coverage for nearly 600,000 immigrants who were brought to the country as children and are protected from deportation.
The plan would allow those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to sign up for health insurance through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, Mr. Biden said.
“They’re American in every way except on paper,” Mr. Biden said in a video posted to Twitter. “It’s past time for Congress to give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship.” He added that in the meantime, “we need to give Dreamers the opportunities and support they deserve.”
The change means that the immigrants, known as Dreamers, will be able to obtain Medicaid coverage in most states if they are poor, and that they can qualify for subsidies to buy private coverage in state marketplaces everywhere if they earn more. The nation’s uninsured rate is at a record low, and undocumented immigrants represent a major share of the country’s population that continues to lack coverage.
The White House statement said it expected “to get this done by the end of the month” — an ambitious timeline given that implementing new regulations, even through executive action, as Mr. Biden is doing, can often take months.
- DACA: President Biden said his administration would expand health care coverage for nearly 600,000 immigrants who were brought to the country as children and are covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
- Trump’s Separation Policy A significant number of U.S. citizen children were removed from their parents under the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their families at the southern border in 2018.
- An Aggressive Proposal: Led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Legislature is considering a package of measures that would penalize those who aid undocumented immigrants and track costs for providing them with health care.
- Death and Justice on the Border: A Mexican man was shot as he crossed an Arizona ranch. The ranch owner was charged with murder, but his supporters view him as the real victim.
But the move comes as the fate of DACA is in legal limbo and the Biden administration is trying to increase pressure on Congress to protect the young immigrants. Unless lawmakers step in with a legislative remedy, the legality of the DACA program is almost certain to be decided by the Supreme Court.
“This shows that the Biden administration is not going to let Congress fiddle while DACA burns,” said Kevin Appleby, the interim director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York. “It is a winning issue with the American public and it sends a message to Congress to do its job and pass the Dream Act.”
About 80 percent of voters supported legislation that would create a pathway for DACA recipients to earn citizenship, according to polling conducted by Democratic and Republican research firms last year.
But there appears to be little sign that Congress will take action on the issue anytime soon. Many immigration advocates lost hope after a bipartisan proposal led by Senators Kyrsten Sinema, independent of Arizona, and Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, did not make it into the 2023 omnibus appropriations package. The deal would have provided a path to citizenship for about two million young immigrants, including DACA recipients.
“President Biden’s inflation has already hammered working families, and now the Democrats want our citizens to pay for new taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants as well,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, said in a statement.
The Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. Biden’s proposal.
Former President Barack Obama created DACA through executive action in 2012 after years of inaction in Congress to protect immigrants who had been brought to the country without documentation as children. But those immigrants were not able to access the federal health insurance programs.
The Department of Health and Human Services will now propose a rule that would expand the definition of who has “lawful presence” for the purposes of being eligible for Medicaid and Affordable Care Act insurance.
The total cost of the program is unclear because it would depend on how many DACA recipients enroll in the federal health insurance programs. But based on estimates that around a third of the about 580,000 DACA enrollees are currently uninsured, and an approximate federal cost of around $5,000 per person for coverage, the total cost of the program could run at less than $1 billion.
The White House referred a question on the cost of expanding the health care coverage to the Department of Health and Human Services, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“The path to a prosperous life starts with having access to good health,” said Xavier Becerra, the Health and Human Services secretary. “And the path to a prosperous nation starts by extending access to health care to every American.”
The Trump administration tried to terminate DACA, but the Supreme Court ruled against the move in June 2020. The court did not, however, decide on whether the program had been legally adopted.
A federal appeals court panel ruled last year that DACA was illegal but allowed those already enrolled to renew their status, keeping the status of the program unchanged but the future of its enrollees up in the air.
A Texas judge is now considering a policy proposed by the Biden administration that would maintain protection for the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.
Yuna Oh, a political associate for America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy organization, said the executive action Mr. Biden pursued on Thursday would offer at least temporary relief to her family, which includes DACA recipients.
“We will be unafraid to go to a simple doctor checkup and have the cost break our savings,” Ms. Oh said. “We can plan out our future a little more with stability, rather than living on the edge.”
Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.