President Joe Biden has announced his administration's plans to extend health care coverage to DACA recipients, also known as "Dreamers."
The move could benefit nearly 600,000 young adults without legal status who were brought to the United States as children and are protected from deportation.
The Biden administration will have to amend a rule that will allow DACA recipients to sign up for health insurance through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.
"They are American in every way, except on paper," President Biden said in a video posted to Twitter. "Health care should be a right, not a privilege."
It's the first time that thousands of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program will soon be eligible for affordable health care coverage.
"I'm glad that Biden is opening the health care program for us now," Francis Tume, a DACA recipient, said. "We're Americans and, you know, we've pledged allegiance to the flag since we were little."
Tume is 29. His parents brought him from Peru to the United States when he was 6 years old.
Living as an undocumented student with no insurance for many years, he says it was like walking on eggshells.
"Even just hanging out with my friends, whether it was going out at night or going to the park, riding a bike, you're just very aware of everything and you try and avoid those situations so you don't have to go to the doctor or because, you know, potentially it could cost you a lot," Tume said.
DACA was implemented in 2012 by the Obama administration. It allowed undocumented young adults who came to the U.S. as children to work and study without fear of deportation.
According to a survey by the National Immigration Law Center, in 2021, 34% of surveyed DACA recipients were living without health insurance, compared to 10% of the general population.
"The way he would have to get it done is by changing the legal definition of what's lawful status in the U.S.," immigration attorney Isadora Velazquez said.
Velazquez adds it's expected the Department of Health and Human Services will introduce a rule to expand the definition of "lawful presence" to include DACA recipients.
"DACA, along with the Temporary Protected Status — although it allows you to stay in the U.S. legally — it has never been considered legal status itself," Velazquez said. "Now, here, we're basically changing the definition of what is that legal status, without having Congress involved — doesn't give you any more benefits in terms of immigration, but it could extend federal benefits that you may not qualify for."
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, at the end of last year there were an estimated 580,000 people enrolled in DACA. The program was closed to new applicants in July 2021.
President Biden implemented a rule last year to make the program a federal regulation. However, a federal judge in Texas is expected to decide on the rule's legitimacy this year.
"We need to keep fighting for more," Tume said.
Tume studied international business at Florida International University. He obtained insurance through the company he currently works for, but says President Biden's plans are a sign of hope for many.
"This is not the end for us," he said. "I feel like we need to continue to fight because we want to be part of this country and hopefully get citizenship."
President Biden says he plans to get this done by the end of April.
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