The President’s Immigration Actions to Lead to a Healthier California

Statement by Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access

Last night President Obama announced he would be taking executive actions to improve our immigration system, including providing many immigrant families in California and the nation with temporary relief from deportation.

REMOVING DEPORTATION DISRUPTIONS: President Obama’s order to allow immigrant families to stay together is a huge benefit to the health of California’s economy and our society. The threat of deportation for immigrant family members puts unhealthy stress on our residents and citizens, and has been disruptive to California families, schools, our communities and our economy. Fears of deportation of family members prevented many legally-residing Californians from seeking care and coverage. With this order, these families won’t have to think that seeking basic care might lead to the deportation of a loved one.

CALIFORNIA’S CURRENT POLICY: While the President’s order continues to exclude undocumented immigrants from federal health benefits, including even those granted deferred action, California has the ability, the history, and the decency to include these Californians in our health coverage and care programs, under existing law. In effect, this means that the President’s actions expand health coverage to those low-income working families, under California’s existing Medi-Cal program, allowing them to get more cost-efficient primary and preventive care, rather than just at the emergency room.

While the exclusion from federal benefits stands, immigrants with “deferred action” status who are at or below the poverty level will be able to get Medi-Cal coverage as an entitlement under existing California law–and this should include those provided relief under the President’s order. California has long covered certain immigrant populations excluded by the federal government, including recent legal immigrants (under the “5-year bar”), refugees (and other “people residing under the color of law”) and recently DREAM ACT students (and others under “deferred action”). The President’s executive order thus expands those eligible for state Medi-Cal, effectively a continuation of these commitments.

PROUD OF CALIFORNIA LEADERSHIP: While Congress has dithered and delayed, California should be proud to lead in efforts to include immigrants in our society, and in our health system. In California, we know our society and economy are better when all children can get educated; our roads are safer when everybody is able to go through the testing process to get a driver’s license; and we know that health care system is stronger when everyone is included. Californians should be proud that our existing state laws already provide health coverage to many of these immigrant families granted deferred action–and should take the modest additional steps to provide coverage for all Californians, regardless of immigration status. This is another way California can again lead the nation on immigration issues.

NEXT STEP SHOULD BE #HEALTH4ALL: We applaud the foresight of Governor Brown and the Legislature in extending Medi-Cal, including state-funded Medi-Cal for immigrant populations that will now include those granted administrative relief.  We therefore urge the Governor and Legislature to take the next step to cover all Californians, which is now even more achievable that the remaining gaps in eligibility are even smaller.

As the President has reaffirmed, our undocumented friends and neighbors are crucial parts of our economy and community–they should be fully included in our health system as well. We strongly support state and county level proposals to extend health coverage to all Californians, regardless of immigration status–building on SB1005 (Lara), introduced earlier this year and various efforts to expand coverage at the county level in the coming year. When and where Congress fails to act, California can and should lead. Our health system is stronger and more effective for everybody when everybody is included, when we provide cost-effective primary and preventive care up front and not just expensive treatment, often too late, in the emergency room.