While the fate of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act is currently in limbo, the Biden administration announced Thursday that it would expand health care coverage for DACA recipients — commonly known as Dreamers — by allowing them to enroll in a health care plan through Obamacare or Medicaid.
“Health care should be a right, not a privilege,” President Joe Biden said in his announcement. “My administration has worked hard to expand health care. And today, more Americans have health insurance than ever. Today’s announcement is about giving DACA recipients the same opportunity.”
DACA, which was put into place by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, shields undocumented individuals who were brought into the country as children from deportation and allows them to obtain work authorization. Recipients are currently barred from accessing the health care marketplace, as they do not qualify for most federal benefits.
Roughly 34% of Dreamers currently lack health care coverage, according to the National Immigration Law Center.
Through Biden’s proposal, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would propose a rule that amends its definition of “lawful presence” to allow DACA recipients to qualify. Those who qualify may also be eligible for financial assistance based on income and their state Medicaid agency, and all eligibility information will be verified electronically, according to a White House fact sheet.
“We recognize that every day counts, and we expect to get this done by the end of the month,” the White House stated.
There are currently 589,660 DACA recipients as of Sept. 30, 2022, according to data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), with a large number residing in California and Texas.
Texas is currently leading a coalition of states in challenging the validity of DACA in federal court. In the summer of 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen deemed DACA unlawful, a ruling that was later upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2022.
Under Hanen’s ruling, current DACA recipients are able to renew their enrollment, but the government is now blocked from approving first-time applications. The same coalition of states is asking Hanen to also block renewal applications from current Dreamers.
“It’s past time for Congress to give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship,” Biden said. “And while we work toward that goal — alongside Dreamers, advocates, members of Congress — we need to give Dreamers the opportunities and support they deserve.”