Foreign Policy Blogs

Health Care for Undocumented Immigrants?

This past weekend the US Congress passed a bill to reform the country’s health care system. It must now be merged with legislation in the Senate and pass through an additional vote in that house.

One aspect of the bill rarely mentioned in the past week, but which attracted scrutiny, is health care coverage for legal and “illegal” immigrants. The issue rose to the forefront of public conscience during President Obama’s speech to Congress in September. Joe Wilson, a Congressman from South Carolina, shouted “You lie!” after Obama stated that Democrats did not intend for “illegal” immigrants to receive health care coverage. (Note: Please see my posting here that discusses terminology.)

Concerns over spending finite resources on health care for undocumented persons are understandable, though the numbers are not as large as one might be led to believe from the media. While the country’s undocumented population remains substantial, statistics show that less than one in 11 of the uninsured is an “illegal” immigrant.

A report by the Migration Policy Institute details those immigrants who would and would not be covered. Some Representatives want to withhold health benefits from legal immigrants who have lived in the US for less than five years, affecting more than 1 of the 4.2 million uninsured permanent residents.

Given that these green card holders reside legally in the US and may one day be citizens, it seems more than reasonable that they too should be able to pay for and receive health insurance.

Getting health care right is important. So too, is immigration reform. The uncertainties on coverage would be less complicated if the United States had successfully solved its immigration quandary. The Obama administration considers this a priority, and should health care reform pass successfully, immigration policy is on the docket for 2010.

If you were looking for a reprieve from the town hall meetings and tea parties marked by with emotion and rhetoric, don’t hold your breath. Immigration debates, here we come.



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.