Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y.
A report from the nation’s capital suggests the White House is working on a deal that would offer immigration reform advocates citizenship for illegal aliens in exchange for support of the health care bill.
In November, Roll Call reported that Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., warned President Obama that the 20 members of her caucus would fight health care reform unless it covered illegal immigrants.
The president, however, had pledged earlier that illegal aliens would not be covered – a promise that prompted Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., to shout, “You lie!”
The Senate version of health care reform, indeed, bars illegal immigrants from coverage, a point that could prove sticky in negotiations with the House’s Hispanic Caucus members in seeking a final version of the bill.
Now, however, Talking Points Memo’s D.C. division reports that immigration advocates may be willing to back health care if the president will promise a 2010 push for immigration reform that provides health care coverage for illegals who are granted citizenship.
Furthermore, TPMDC reports, those familiar with the talks say the immigration legislation being crafted by the White House includes both amnesty for illegal aliens and the extension of health care coverage the Hispanic Caucus demands.
Republicans anticipated this move in September of last year, only days after Rep. Wilson’s outburst, calling the passage of health care reform followed by amnesty a “back door” to ensuring current illegal immigrants get health care coverage, thus proving Rep. Wilson right.
“It is ironic that the president told the American people that illegal immigrants should not be covered by the health care bill, but now just days later, he’s talking about letting them in the back door,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told the Washington Times. “If the American people do not want to provide government health care for illegal immigrants, why would they support giving them citizenship, the highest honor America can bestow?”
Smith’s comments came in response to a speech Obama gave in September that hinted at this path, when the president said the health care plan’s failure to cover illegal immigrants was all the more reason to legalize them.
“Even though I do not believe we can extend coverage to those who are here illegally, I also don’t simply believe we can simply ignore the fact that our immigration system is broken,” Obama said in a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. “If anything, this debate underscores the necessity of passing comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the issue of 12 million undocumented people living and working in this country once and for all.”
A portion of Obama’s speech, including the above comments, can be seen below:
And while Republicans saw in the speech the seed of a plan to swap amnesty for support of health care reform, immigrant rights groups took away a signal that Obama intends to provide health care coverage to anyone in the U.S. legally, regardless of immigration status, a move that would require current law be changed.
Obama also said during the speech, “I strongly support making sure folks who are here legally have access to affordable, quality health insurance under this plan, just like everybody else.”
“It’s the first time I’ve certainly heard, publicly, him talking more about legal immigrants,” said Eric Rodriguez, vice president for research and advocacy at the National Council of La Raza. “Our biggest concern is that most people don’t realize legal immigrants are currently barred from receiving health care benefits for the first five years in the country.”
Indeed, under welfare legislation passed in 1996, most federal aid programs are restricted to citizens and legal immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years.