Biden administration to expand health care for DACA recipients

Immigrants brought to the US as young children will be allowed to apply for federal health insurance programmes.

Dreamers rally
About 580,000 people are currently enrolled in DACA, which allows them to work and live in the US without fear of deportation [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

The United States will allow some undocumented immigrants brought to the country as young children to access federal health insurance programmes, President Joe Biden’s administration has announced, in a move that was welcomed as “long overdue”.

In a statement on Thursday, the Biden administration said people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme would be able to apply for Medicaid, a health insurance programme for low-income earners in the US.

DACA recipients, also referred to as “Dreamers”, would be able to access other services under the Affordable Care Act, as well.

“They’re American in every way except for on paper,” Biden said in a video shared on Twitter. “We need to give Dreamers the opportunities and support they deserve.”

About 580,000 people are currently enrolled in DACA, which was launched by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to allow recipients to live and work in the US without fear of deportation.

The programme has been fiercely criticised by Republican legislators, however, and a number of court challenges have created uncertainty about its future.

The Biden administration said executive actions such as Thursday’s announcement are part of an effort to “preserve and fortify” DACA in the absence of legislative solutions.

“While Congress has failed to act, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken significant measures to protect Dreamers,” the White House said in a fact sheet, including fighting legal challenges that “attempt to strip them of the only home they have ever known”.

DACA participants were not previously eligible for federal health insurance programmes because they did not meet the definition of having a “lawful presence” in the US.

The Department of Health and Human Services will seek to change that regulation by the end of the month, The Associated Press news agency reported.

DACA applies to just a small portion of the roughly 20 million immigrants living in the US without official documentation, and court challenges have further restricted the number of eligible applicants.

During the tenure of former President Donald Trump, the government attempted to dismantle the programme entirely.

Rights advocates and progressive US legislators welcomed the Biden administration’s announcement on Thursday, particularly in light of these recent efforts.

“We commend the Biden administration for moving to rectify this years-long injustice so that more DACA recipients can access the care they need,” said Kica Matos, executive vice president of programmes and strategy at the National Immigration Law Center.

“This move comes as many DACA recipients experience harmful mental and physical health effects from living through continuous, politically motivated attacks on the program,” Matos said in a statement.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal wrote on Twitter that the move marked “a long overdue step toward justice”. “Health care is a human right, and DACA recipients deserve access to that care just like everyone else,” she said.

“Millions of Dreamers have called our country home since they were too young to remember anywhere else. They deserve EVERY opportunity to succeed and live a healthy life here in America,” US Senator Tina Smith also tweeted.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies