California gives undocumented immigrants health care coverage

Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta talks with Beatriz Hernandez at a rally calling for health care for all low-income immigrants.

Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, left, talks with Beatriz Hernandez, right, at a rally at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, calling for health care for all low-income immigrants living in the country illegally. California will become the first state to offer free health care to all low-income immigrants regardless of their legal status after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $307.9 billion operating budget on Thursday.

Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

California will become the first state to offer free health care to all low-income immigrants regardless of their legal status, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $307.9 billion operating budget on Thursday.

The budget provision will extend coverage to an estimated 764,000 people under California’s Medicaid program by 2024, and cost the state about $2.7 billion each year.

“This is what being ‘pro-life’ ACTUALLY looks like,” Newsom tweeted.

Numbers vary on the true population of undocumented immigrants in California — a report from the America Immigration Council found there are over 2 million citizens living with at least one undocumented family member.

And a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center estimated there to be 2.2 million undocumented immigrants in California, the largest share of the roughly 10.7 million throughout the U.S. at the time.

They make up nearly 9% of the state’s labor force, many finding work in California’s $49 billion agricultural industry, construction or manufacturing.

But despite working some of the state’s most dangerous jobs and paying taxes, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for Medicaid and other social programs. Roughly 92% of Californians have health care, according to the Associated Press, though undocumented adults make up one of the largest blocks without coverage.

California will be the first state to close that gap after Newsom signed the sweeping budget on Thursday, dubbed “the biggest expansion of coverage in the nation since the start of the Affordable Care Act in 2014” by Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California.

“In California we recognize (that) everybody benefits when everyone is covered,” he told the AP.

The budget was celebrated by health care and immigration advocates, but met with opposition from conservative groups, who worry free health care will incentivize more illegal immigration at a time when apprehensions, search and rescue efforts, and deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border are trending upward.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, told the AP the extension is “a magnet for those who are not legally authorized to enter the country.”

“I think many of us are very sympathetic to the immigrant community, but we really wish we had better control of who enters this nation and this state,” he said.

A number of other states are creeping toward similar programs — 18 states provide prenatal care to all residents, including the undocumented, while California, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Washington have extended health care to all low-income children.

Kyle Dunphey

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