Senate: No Healthcare for Undocumented

By Jorge Rivas Oct 19, 2009

Written by: M. Junaid Levesque-Alam This post originally appeared on In the absence of real movement on immigration reform, the undocumented are facing increasingly harsh treatment from the government.

The healthcare bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee yesterday explicitly excludes coverage for the estimated 12 million undocumented residing in the U.S.. These residents will be excluded not only from subsidies aimed at low-income Americans, but from the ability to participate in the insurance exchange that will let consumers shop for coverage.

Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, told Florida’s Sun Sentinel,

"This anti-immigrant scapegoating is political posturing, not good policy."

She’s right for two reasons: First, the purpose of expanding medical coverage is to increase preventive care and curtail the high costs of emergency room treatment, the point at which many health problems have already become too expensive and too difficult to reverse. Denying access to decent healthcare to millions of people who disproportionately make up America’s poor is clearly counterproductive in this respect.

Secondly, the idea underpinning this exclusion — that Hispanic immigrants come to America to take advantage of government benefits– is not borne out by the reality on the ground, which is that immigration numbers scale with job availability. In other words, people come here looking for jobs to support families back home, not handouts.

At this point, it seems unlikely that the undocumented will receive any respite on the healthcare front. The only real option is probably a path to citizenship. Despite the absence of a serious push, Democratic lawmakers in the House have at least announced plans to introduce a bill that would make this possible for immigrants who undergo background checks, learn English and meet other conditions.

On Tuesday, Illinois Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez told a rally on the Hill sponsored by immigrant advocacy organizations, "It is time we had a workable plan… that recognizes the vast contributions of immigrants to this country and that honors the American dream."

What’s interesting here is that the predictable conservative opposition to immigration reform may not be as monolithic as one might expect, for very practical reasons: immigrants are filling in the growing ranks of the evangelical movement.

Just recently, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) overwhelmingly endorsed a motion that, among other things, called for comprehensive immigration reform. USA Today reported that NAE President Leith Anderson spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill "before testifying with other religious leaders at a Senate subcommittee hearing on faith-based perspectives on immigration reform."

"Many of the immigrants in America are us," he said. "That is, the growing edge of evangelical churches and denominations in the United States is the immigrant community."

These are, to say the least, interesting times.