The United States Senate is currently debating the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill crafted by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight”, and we still hope the measure will pass the chamber with the support of most Democrats and a fair number of Republicans. Now, in what appears to be an attempt to delay or stall momentum for the bill, some Republican Congressmen are trying to tie immigration reform to the President’s “Obamacare” healthcare overhaul.
When discussing immigration reform, both parties have long agreed that undocumented immigrants would not be given the same federal subsidies that citizens will receive to help them purchase affordable health care. As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated recently, “we have said since day one . . . that undocumented people will not have access to subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.” So if both sides have already agreed that undocumented immigrants will not be given these benefits, what is the issue being raised?
Some Republican Congressmen, led by Representative Raul Labrador, are advocating that those who come forward to begin a process towards eventual citizenship should be forced to pay into the healthcare system just like American citizens, only they won't be given the same affordable premium rates citizens are to receive. Supporters of this plan want to require undocumented immigrants to purchase their own insurance coverage, without access to any of the same federal health subsidies citizens can expect. If immigrants refused or were unable to pay these premiums, they would be disqualified from a pathway towards U.S. citizenship.
In addition to the fundamental unfairness of these demands, Democrats argue that making the immigrants subject to such a mandate may impose an insurmountable burden on them because of the inflated expense of the premiums and the relatively low salaries of those immigrants new to our country. This provision could also discourage people from coming out of the shadows to apply for legal status in the first place, knowing the financial burden they would face.
The Congressmen supporting this plan appear to be simply trying to throw one obstacle after another in the way of real immigration reform. They may hope to bring about acrimony among the bill’s supporters and cause the current bipartisan coalition behind reform to fall apart. We must combat each and every one these attempts and keep the focus on the goal, passage of a bill that will finally allow undocumented immigrants living in our nation a roadmap towards citizenship.