I can’t wrap my head around it. Why in the world did the President deny deferred actioners coverage under the Affordable Care Act? It’s puzzling from the legal standpoint; as a result of the President’s executive order the presence of deferred actioners is no longer considered unlawful and lawful aliens are covered under the ACA. However, it’s even more puzzling from the political standpoint. By denying this coverage President Obama wasn’t going to win the support of any new folks but has instead further frustrated Latinos.
In June the White House boisterously announced that it would allow undocumented immigrants who met certain criteria to remain in the country. The deferred action program allows immigrants to shed their unlawful status. But here is where things get confusing, the deferred action program does not grant lawful status but it does suspend one’s presence from being unlawful, or as the definition from the Department of Homeland Security reads:
“Deferred action does not confer lawful status upon an individual. In addition, although an individual whose case is deferred will not be considered to be accruing unlawful presence in the United States during the period deferred action is in effect, deferred action does not excuse individuals of any previous or subsequent periods of unlawful presence.” [underline added for emphasis]
So while you’re not considered a lawful alien if you’re a deferred actioner you’re also not considered to be here unlawfully. But like other lawful aliens you’re allowed to legally work here because of your eligibility for work authorization. If you’re not here unlawfully, then shouldn’t that translate into being here lawfully?
The fine print is important here because according to the ACA only American citizens and lawful aliens are eligible for federal health benefits such as Medicaid or federal subsidies for insurance plans. And to make sure there was no confusion in thinking that someone who is not here unlawfully but not technically a lawful alien and thus ineligible for health insurance coverage the White House announced that deferred actioners are not eligible for coverage under the ACA. Unlike the Deferred Action announcement, this one came quietly two months afterwards.
Beyond the legal technicalities of the ACA and the Deferred Action plan is the matter of good old-fashioned politics. What was the president’s strategy here? Did he think he would win over people who are opposed to illegal immigration? Did he think that all of those folks who were against the Deferred Action Order would suddenly say, “Oh, hey, the President actually is tough on immigration after all because he denied those kids health insurance, now he has my vote!” My sense is there aren’t very many folks with that internal dialogue.
The President has not won over any new friends with the denial of coverage for deferred actioners and has ticked off his current friends, Latinos. Behind closed doors Latinos are suspicious of the timing of the Deferred Action order and frustrated at the lack of action earlier. And with this denial of coverage under the ACA the President is adding insult to the injury of not taking action earlier. Had the President allowed deferred actioners to receive health insurance coverage then he would have assuaged Latino skepticism and helped to further mobilize this electorate.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an NBC Latino and MSNBC contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.