Last week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report on the treatment of non-citizens in the House health care bill that had anti-immigrant activists patting themselves on the back. "Case closed. Illegal aliens will be eligible to participate in the health care," said Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a designated hate group. However, President Obama has repeatedly affirmed the contrary, and there's specific language in both the House and Senate bills that explicitly excludes undocumented immigrants. In fact, the CRS report better illustrates how health care reform would hurt undocumented immigrants more than it helps them in the absence of any major reform of our immigration laws. But that hasn't stopped nativists from "whip[ping] up fear and anger" about immigrants and health care reform and effectively convincing many Americans that Democrats are blatantly lying to them about immigrant health care coverage, while "winking and nodding at the supporters of illegal immigration." As part of their tireless quest for any excuse to slam "Obamacare," hardcore health care reform opponents have welcomed their deceptive antics with open arms.
RIGHT-WING LIES: FAIR's messaging mirrors that of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA -- all three of which "stand at the nexus of the American nativist movement." The "nativist lobby" incessantly claims that there are "giant loopholes" in the health care bill. Their biggest qualm is that Democrats killed two Republican amendments that proposed harsh verification mechanisms to enforce sections of the House health care bill, which already explicitly exclude undocumented immigrants. This week, Mark Krikorian of CIS accused Democrats of blatant dishonesty shortly after writing that "supporters of Obamacare continue to deny" that "illegal aliens" will "receive taxpayer-funded subsidies." Krikorian diverts attention from the fact that the majority of uninsured people are U.S. citizens when he makes flashy statements about the high number of uninsured immigrants (legal and undocumented) and their children to argue that the problem is immigration, not health care. Finally, right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin came up with her own paranoid theory that "Obamacare" would not only cover "illegal lawbreakers, border jumpers, visa overstayers, and deportation fugitives," but is also a "means to amnestizing the entire illegal alien population."
NATIVISM GOES MAINSTREAM: It didn't take long for right wingers who adamantly oppose health care reform to start invoking similar claims. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) declared, "Obamacare, is going to give every single one of those illegal aliens health insurance," while Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) pointed out that "if you don't like illegal immigration, then you're not going to like this bill either." Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) -- who has repeatedly invoked "fear-mongering right-wing rhetoric" to block health care reform -- claimed "a bill that is silent on eligibility means a bill that includes illegal immigrants." Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) blasted health care reform in the same breath she erroneously blamed Texas' uninsured problem on undocumented immigrants. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said that it's perfectly "logical" for people to ask if health care reform will benefit "illegal immigrants," despite the fact that the question is most often raised in a completely illogical -- if not outright hateful -- way. Meanwhile, CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight informed Americans that "people who break immigration laws" will be "rewarded" with free health care, and Fox News continues to validate the myth in its everyday broadcasts.
'TEXT BOOK CASE OF A PHONY ISSUE': Unsurprisingly, the nativist argument just doesn't add up. To begin with, enforcement amendments were already defeated for good reasons. In the House, the Heller Amendment would have given private insurance providers unprecedented access to the sensitive income and identity information, and the Deal Amendment would have "narrowed the categories" of legal immigrants who would be eligible for benefits. Strict verification requirements have often backfired: For every $100 spent by taxpayers in six states to implement Medicaid's stringent verification requirements, only 14 cents were saved. Nativists are also downplaying a key point made in the CRS report: §142(a)(3) of the bill stipulates that the Health Choices Commissioner will determine the eligibility of individual affordability credits that will involve establishing a verification mechanism. Policy experts have explained that a verification mechanism is best determined after the bill is passed so that the one chosen matches the underlying process for receiving benefits. The CRS report also suggests that -- far from benefiting them -- many undocumented immigrants will be forced by the bill to either purchase insurance at their own expense because their immigration status renders them ineligible for federal assistance or face serious penalties that will apply to all citizens and "resident aliens," irrespective of their immigration status. With all that said, "fear doesn't listen to facts," and that's why the nativists' anti-health care argument has been called a "textbook case of a phony issue." However, there's nothing phony about the fact that uninsured Americans are dying, thousands of American retirees have moved to Mexico in search of better health care, and 12 million undocumented immigrants seek emergency medical care only as a measure of last resort. Lawmakers should put facts before fear in the health care debate and follow it up with an effort to turn hardworking undocumented immigrants into legal residents who pay into the system, instead of being punished by it.