May 24, 2013
On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 744: The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. While the passage of the bill by the committee is commendable, two significant provisions have been excluded.
The first, proposed by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) would expand eligibility of all lawfully present immigrants to Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicare and would expand Medicaid and CHIP to pregnant women and children. As the law currently stands, those on the road to citizenship are excluded from affordable health care options, like Medicaid, during their provisional immigration status plus an additional five years after that. The current law also prevents aspiring citizens from accessing benefits of the Affordable Care Act during their provisional status, despite the fact that they would be paying taxes. This amendment, along with another Hirono proposal to expand health care access to aspiring citizens, was withdrawn from the committee markup and is not included in the bill that will move to the Senate floor. Having access to adequate health care services is crucial to ensuring that aspiring citizens who are HIV-positive stay healthy and are engaged in care. Furthermore, allowing for full engagement in health care services, including affordable options like Medicaid, can be an important tool in preventing disease before it happens. Partners at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health expect there to be opportunities while the bill is on the Senate floor to support health care access and are encouraging individuals to call their Senators about the importance of health care access for all.
The second, proposed by Chair of the Committee Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would allow same-sex spouses to be sponsored for immigration as long as one of the spouses was an American citizen and they were legally married in a U.S. state or in another country that legally recognizes same sex marriages. This would allow gay U.S. citizens to sponsor their spouse for green cards, a right already given to U.S. citizens in opposite-sex marriages. Upon conceding that the bill would not make it out of the committee, Sen. Leahy withdrew the amendment "with a heavy heart." Because he withdrew the amendment before it was vetted by the committee, however, Sen. Leahy reserved the right to introduce the amendment on the Senate floor when the time comes. The text of the amendment can be found here.
Another amendment about which AIDS United had been concerned, amendment 111, proposed by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), failed to pass the committee. This amendment would have made undocumented people ineligible for federal, state or local means tested benefits (benefits only available to those whose income is below a certain level), even for benefits that they might otherwise have been eligible. This is not good public health policy since it would have had the effect of making it much more difficult for undocumented immigrants with communicable diseases such as HIV to access health care. Although it is not part of the Senate bill, this issue may come up when the immigration debate moves to the House of Representatives. Democrats in the House have drafted a provision that would require immigrants seeking citizenship to provide their own health care, and providing that if they receive any government services for health care would render them ineligible for permanent citizenship. This is especially troubling for undocumented immigrants or those seeking citizenship who are living with HIV: it is critical for these individuals to engage with health care services, to ensure their own health and to provide a preventive effect for the community since HIV is an infectious disease. By mid-week some House Democrats, including those in top leadership positions, began expressing discomfort with the provision and negotiations within the Democratic caucus. AIDS United will work with allies to urge Members of the House that this dangerous language should not be included be removed in their version of the bill.
As the immigration debate continues, AIDS United will keep advocating for complete health care access for aspiring citizens and LGBT families at risk of discrimination.
You can read all of the amendments proposed to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the vote results here.