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Health Care Reform Legislation Becomes Vehicle for Reshaping Immigration Policy

Weak Verification and Loosening of Welfare Reform Rules Alter Longstanding System of Enforcement and Incentives

WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Current versions of both the House and Senate health care reform bills contain inadequate verification measures that will fail to prevent millions of illegal aliens from accessing taxpayer funded health benefits, charges the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). And in a radical change from current law, both versions of the bill grant immediate health care benefits to immigrants currently subject to a 5-year waiting period before they may access most federal benefits.

FAIR has pledged to try to block these proposals: "If powerful special interests prevail, the final version of a health care reform bill will have been used to transform immigration policies as aggressively as it was used to transform the U.S. health care system itself," says Dan Stein, President of FAIR.

FAIR states that narrow special interests such as the National Council of La Raza and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have been pushing hard to include sweeping changes to immigration policy within the health care reform bill - no limits to eligibility and immediate access for everyone regardless of status. "They never know when enough is enough," says Stein.

While FAIR takes no official position on the overall bill, The Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), the group contends that health care legislation should be "immigration neutral," not a vehicle to reverse longstanding immigration polices. Not properly checking the citizenship status of those applying for benefits, and granting instant access to legal residents still bound by their 5-year waiting period for benefits, shatters the integrity of a system based on penalties and incentives.

Background: The verification measures to stop ineligible aliens from accessing benefits under the House health care reform bill still contain loopholes for fraud and abuse. While those claiming to be non-citizens will be checked through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, the verification mechanism recommended for those who claim to be citizens is a new, untested system that does not require supporting documentation. This is a massive loophole. FAIR urges Congress to instead mandate use of an existing verification model, approved by Congress in 2005, which requires that individuals claiming to be citizens first present citizenship documentation before receiving federal benefits such as Medicaid.

In addition to eligibility verification deficiencies, providing immediate access to federal health benefits for immigrants threatens to dismantle one of the original reforms of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA or Welfare Reform). The Act created a 5-year waiting period before new immigrants can access "Federal means-tested public benefits" and required that a person petitioning for an alien's admission must sign an affidavit promising financial support to the alien. In addition to reducing overall federal outlays, the policy was designed to protect American taxpayers by ensuring legal immigrants do not become public charges by immediately taking advantage of benefits upon their arrival in the United States.

The policy has been one of the very few sensible reforms made to an immigration system that is otherwise in chaos. Yet, both the House and Senate versions of the health care reform bill specify that taxpayer subsidies are not subject to the 5-year waiting period, thus allowing legal aliens to immediately access benefits at a cost to American taxpayers of at least $33.8 billion during the 2014-2019 budget period. Unless, this provision is removed, FAIR believes this will establish a dramatic and costly precedent to eliminate the 5-year waiting period for virtually every federal benefit.

"Neglecting verification loopholes that reward those who have no legal right to be here, and offering instant benefits to people the day they get their green cards is costly health care policy, and even worse immigration policy," charged Stein. "It's unimaginable that Congress is making vast transformational changes to our immigration system under cover of a health care reform bill that is already a politically risky bill for lawmakers. House members should be irate at party leadership for having loaded this bill with immigration changes that most Americans will vehemently oppose."

About FAIR

Founded in 1979, FAIR is the country's largest immigration reform group. With over 250,000 members nationwide, FAIR fights for immigration policies that serve national interests, not special interests. FAIR believes that immigration reform must enhance national security, improve the economy, protect jobs, preserve our environment, and establish a rule of law that is recognized and enforced.


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