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GOP Attacks Dreamers’ Access to Healthcare

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Republicans push racist zero-sum argument seeking to keep Dreamers in permanent second-class status 


On April 13, 2023, the Biden administration announced that they are finalizing a proposed rule to expand healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Ace (ACA) to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  (DACA) recipients. While the reactions are overwhelmingly positive about the sensible move – remember, Americans vigorously support permanent protections for DACA beneficiaries — the GOP’s reaction was predictably hostile. Apparently, they are deeply offended that Dreamers will be able to access affordable healthcare, despite the billions in tax dollars they contribute each year even while largely remaining locked out a path for permanent status. 

Donald Trump, who hopes to return to the White House after his violent coup attempt failed, vowed that if he becomes President in 2024, he would immediately rescind the healthcare access provision, re-committing to leaving DACA recipients to second class status. The quick and cruel campaign promise should not come as a surprise, as Trump  tried to end DACA in 2017, and Republican states have relentlessly tried to end the wildly popular program through the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline. 

Since its inception more than a decade ago, DACA has protected hundreds of thousands of eligible undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children from deportation.  Additionally, enrollees are given work authorization with the ability to renew every 2 years. While this program was done under an executive action under the Obama administration, it was meant to be a temporary fix in the face of legislative inaction. And while Congress doesn’t act, DACA recipients do, paying federal, state, and local income taxes. According to the Center for American Progress, DACA recipients pay around $6.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.3 billion in state and local taxes annually. 

They also have immense spending power, around $25.3 billion. But despite their ability to work legally and their financial contributions, they are not eligible for federally funded health coverage like ACA, Medicaid, and CHIP. 

Despite the limited scope and common sense nature of the Biden move, Republicans have framed it in racist zero-sum terms slotting it into their cynical nativist narrative. They have tried to make the illogical claim that opening access to the ACA to Dreamers comes at the direct expense of the US citizens. This is simply not true. In fact, taxes contributed by immigrants, including DACA recipients are essential to the stability of Medicaid and Medicare. Here are some examples of GOP’s ugly divide and distract tactics: 

  • 4/13/23 – Senator Tom Cotton: “Rewarding illegal immigration will bring more illegal immigration. This is an insult to American citizenship.”
  • 4/13/23 – Rep. Mary Miller: “After opening our border to more than 5 million illegal immigrants, “Border Czar” Kamala Harris announces her goal to crush our healthcare system by providing taxpayer-funded health insurance to foreign nationals.”
  • 4/14/23 – Rep. Keith Self: “Joe Biden’s plan to grant healthcare to illegal immigrants with taxpayer dollars will drive Medicare and Medicaid toward insolvency.”
  • 4/13/23 – Rep. Tom Tiffany: “Biden opened your borders for millions of illegal aliens. Now he wants to open your wallets for them, too.”
  • 4/14/23 – Rep. Ronny Jackson: “Our nation is in decline and this White House is giving taxpayer-subsidized healthcare to over 800 THOUSAND illegals. Biden puts ILLEGALS FIRST and AMERICA LAST!”
  • 4/17/23 – Rep. Mike Collins: “With Biden’s border crisis raging on, the Biden admin is making the situation even worse by providing healthcare to illegal immigrants. This will cost taxpayers an additional $26 billion when hardworking Americans are already struggling to make ends meet.”
  • 4/20/23 – Sen. Cynthia Lummis: “President Biden’s plan to give DACA recipients Medicaid is completely insane. Wyoming taxpayers should absolutely not be funding health care for illegal immigrants.”

Meanwhile, Biden described DACA recipients as “Americans in every way – except on paper” in his announcement of the expansion of the ACA. GOP members completely disagree. They clearly do not think that DACA recipients deserve access to healthcare, regardless of the benefits they bring to the U.S. Economic contributions aside, having access to affordable healthcare is a necessity that has far too long been denied to Dreamers. Republicans would rather DACA recipients never have a voice by not giving them a pathway to citizenship and never being fully accepted as Americans. 

The narrative pitting undocumented immigrants against American citizens by the GOP is a dangerous tactic that puts a bullseye on the whole immigrant community (documented or undocumented) and demolishes trust regardless of the fact that they benefit from each other’s presence. Having access to affordable healthcare increases the overall quality of life of DACA recipients and their families. Vice President of Communications at NextGen American, who is a DACA recipient, Antonio Arellano, tweeted, “this news is a ray of hope for DACA recipients like me. It’s reassuring to know that the Biden administration is taking steps to prioritize our well-being.” 

Deputy Director of Federal Advocacy at United We Dream, Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, also expressed her excitement. “Having good reliable health care is a human need, and this rule change will mean that more people will have the life saving health care coverage they need to take care of themselves and their families.” I myself have DACA recipients in my family who will directly benefit from this expansion, and I know that the benefit of having affordable healthcare doesn’t stop at their health but also includes stability, career, and finance. They can look forward to a healthier future.