With Arms Half Open
Last week the Obama administration announced a new regulation that precludes people who are eligible for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, also known as “DREAMers,” from accessing healthcare services under the 2010 healthcare reform law known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). This stands in opposition to the intention of the ACA and to our Jewish values.
The DACA program was announced by the Obama Administration in June as an administrative implementation of a key aspect of the proposed DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented as a result of being brought into the country as children (so long as they meet a specific set of criteria). While DACA does not grant anyone legal status within the United States, it does grant a temporary and renewable reprieve from deportation under an existing immigration category called “deferred status.” DACA does not create a new classification of immigration status, only a new set of criteria to qualify for it. Individuals listed under deferred status are still considered to be in the country illegally but have been granted a deferment on deportation proceedings.
This new regulation on health care creates two tiers of deferred status individuals, differentiating between those who are “DREAMers” and those who do not qualify as such. The second group can access healthcare services through programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for children and pregnant women under 21 or the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), which allows individuals suffering from conditions such as cancer to access affordable health insurance until the full weight of the ACA goes into effect in 2014. When the Insurance Exchanges come to fruition in 2014 along with a host of other programs that will make health insurance more affordable, DACA participants will be ineligible to access them, while they will be available to all other deferred status residents.
In other words: The only way an individual granted deferred status under the DACA program will be able to access health care in the United States is to be admitted to the emergency room – exactly the type of expensive health care that the ACA is designed to minimize. By creating this new classification of deferred status individuals, the Administration effectively shrinks the pool of people participating in the health care market, while simultaneously trumpeting the reduced costs that will be provided by expanding participation in health care insurance and other programs. This is a contradictory policy position that offers no tangible benefit but serves to continue the alienation of individuals making substantive contributions to our society.
Furthermore, this new regulation runs contrary to the values enshrined in our Jewish teachings and creates a unique exemption explicitly denounced by our values. We are commanded to welcome the stranger and to remember that we too were once strangers in the land of Egypt. While the Reform Movement welcomed the Administration’s policy to accept DREAMers into the country by granting them deferred status (you can thank the President for taking this action here!), Judaism is equally clear on the obligations of the community to heal the sick. We are expected to take care of our bodies because they are sacred and created in God’s image. The Talmud commands, “Whoever is in pain, lead them to a doctor” (Baba Kamma 46B). By limiting access to healthcare while welcoming DREAMers to the country we are embracing them with only one arm open as if to say “you can stay but are not truly welcome.” This policy primarily affects people who came to this country through no decision of their own; they were brought here by their parents or family. As President Obama said just this week, “A young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she's ever called home.” Based on his stated beliefs, it is unconscionable to deny equal status to individuals who, up until the end of last month, were given no distinct legal differentiation from each other.