The Reason Immigrants Are Now Afraid to Enroll in Health Care Plans

February 17th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

Undocumented and legal immigrants aren't signing up for health care plans — and, in some cases, are attempting to cancel their plans — out of fear of deportation, according to advocates and health care officials.

ICE police.

President Donald Trump's statements and actions on immigration have caused some immigrants to worry that their enrollment in state-run Medicaid plans will enable enforcement agencies to identify and deport them. This isn't a new concern, but anxieties have been heightened in response to a recent sweep of raids and executive actions designed to crack down on illegal immigration.

"It's really aimed at targeting those folks who use means-tested programs that they're eligible for right now under law and then attaching immigration consequences by saying, 'If you use these programs, we may deport you or you may not be able to get your green card,'" Jenny Rejeske, a health policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), told ATTN:. "That's causing a chilling effect right now throughout immigrant communities."

One particular executive order, a draft of which was leaked in January, would undermine Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — an immigration policy that protects certain undocumented children from deportation through two-year deferments — by redefining "public charge."

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Public charge maintains that immigrants are ineligible for legal permanent residence if they're dependent on public benefits such as welfare, or are likely to become dependent if admitted. A 20-year-old rule excludes health care benefits from the public charge standard, but Trump's executive order would include it, making it more likely that parents of DACA children, who are eligible for health care services, could be denied on the basis that they're dependent on public benefits.

"This is one more part of this administration's reign of terror on immigrant communities — and even though this one hasn't been signed yet, it's caused tremendous fear. And if it is signed, we could be entering into a public health crisis," Rejeske added.

In Alameda County, California, health department officials have started distributing posters at clinics, informing patients that they would be treated regardless of immigration status, the East Bay Express reported. The interim director of Alameda County Healthcare Services, Rebecca Gebhart, admitted that she wasn't sure the group couldn't be forced to turn over Medical-enrollment data to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).


"I don't know what the legal basis would be [for the state] to refuse it if the federal government came with a subpoena and said, 'We want the records on these individuals who are parents of Medical recipients,'" Steven Wallace, assistant director of UCLA's Center for Health Policy Research, told ATTN:. "I don't know what legal authority the state would have to refuse them."

But he noted that California lawmakers are currently working with attorneys to enhance the security of health care data for immigrants in the event of a federal crackdown.

"In general, right now, the concern in immigrant communities is at a fever pitch — in part because of the uncertainty," Wallace said. "That's going to affect people seeking health care services whether they have insurance or not; it's going to discourage people from signing up for health care even when they're eligible for it. I think it's a really unfortunate situations that we're in in terms of access to health care."