President Joe Biden announced Thursday that hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children will be able to apply for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges.
The action will allow participants in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to access government-funded health insurance programs.
“They’re American in every way except for on paper,” Biden said in a video released on his Twitter page. “We need to give Dreamers the opportunities and support they deserve.”
The action is likely to generate significant pushback from conservative leaders of states that have been reluctant to expand Medicaid and critical of the Biden administration’s response to migrants who enter the U.S. illegally. While the federal government provides funding and guidelines for Medicaid, the program is administered by the states.
Then-President Barack Obama launched the 2012 DACA initiative to shield from deportation immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents as children and to allow them to work legally in the country. However, the immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” were still ineligible for government-subsidized health insurance programs because they did not meet the definition of having a “lawful presence” in the U.S. Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services will aim to change that by the end of the month.
The White House action comes as the DACA program is in legal peril and the number of people eligible is shrinking.
An estimated 580,000 people were still enrolled in DACA at the end of last year, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That number is down from previous years. Court orders currently prevent the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from processing new applications. The DACA program has been mired in legal challenges for years, while Congress has been unable to reach a consensus on broader immigration reforms.
DACA recipients can work legally and must pay taxes, but they don’t have full legal status and are denied many benefits, including access to federally funded health insurance, available to U.S. citizens and foreigners living in the U.S.