US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Immigration and the House health care reform bill

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Last Saturday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a comprehensive health care insurance bill. Controversy over abortion was highlighted in the press with its narrow passage, especially the clout exercised by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But the bishops had another agenda item in regard to the bill -- extension of benefits to all immigrants. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus successfully pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with help of the USCC, to protect most rights of immigrants.

Originally the caucus was going to keep a low profile on the issue, expecting comprehensive immigration reform next year to right the situation of the undocumented. But anti-immigrant legislators -- not all Republican -- raised the issue. The undocumented, they demanded, were to be entirely excluded from the bill, save for existing policy allowing access to emergency rooms and maternal care. They would not even be able to purchase insurance on the exchanges with their own money. Some legislators wanted to exclude even legal immigrants from the exchanges. Already those who have not been here for five years would be ineligible for the subsidies, as they are currently excluded from other federal benefits. The threat of the Hispanic caucus to sit out the vote moved the house leadership to include all legal immigrants in the subsidies. The undocumented would be allowed to purchase insurance on the exchanges, using their own funds.
Now action passes to the Senate where it is expected that the undocumented would be excluded from the exchanges -- which is supported by the White House -- and legal immigrants would be subject to the five-year exclusion. Some will push for excluding legal immigrants from the exchanges entirely. Immigrant advocate groups are preparing to fight for both -- to include the undocumented in the exchanges if they pay out of their pocket and to drop the five-year exclusion for the legal immigrant (see Washington Post article).

Obama Administration promises immigration reform in 2010
Growing unemployment and the need for the federal government to do something urgently about it – for the Democrats before the midterm elections – has led many to seek to put off a debate and vote on comprehensive immigration reform until after the election. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, told a liberal group that the administration will work for reform in 2010 and not wait till after the election. Legislation will contain a process of legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants and – repeating the administration mantra of the last few months – provide for tighten border protection and a crack down and the unauthorized migrants and employers who exploit them (see New York Times article).