By Mayra E. Alvarez, The Children’s Partnership, and Sonya Schwartz, Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, also posted www.childrenspartnership.org
The Supreme Court’s 4-4 vote in United States v. Texas leaves immigrant families and those who care about their future deeply saddened but ready to fight again for inclusion and fairness. With this split decision, our country is still prevented from moving forward with the Obama Administration’s 2014 actions to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to more DREAMers, and implement the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents (DAPA) program for the many parents that have long called this country home. Moreover, it is a major missed opportunity to improve the lives of families in communities across the country. From coast to coast, our family, friends, and neighbors will have to continue to wait for immigration relief, and, with it, the potential gains in health and well-being that would follow.
Technically, this split decision means that the Fifth Circuit’s decision upholding the preliminary injunction against the DAPA and expanded DACA initiative still stands. United States v. Texas will be sent back to the lower courts for consideration. There are still additional legal avenues potentially available to move forward action for our families. It is important to note that this case has no impact on the DACA program launched in 2012, which is still in effect and open for applications and renewals.
Children’s advocates nationally know the promise that immigration relief has in improving the health of children. Nationally, it is estimated that more than 3.7 million additional undocumented immigrants would have qualified for expanded DACA and DAPA. What’s more, 4.3 million children under age 18 live in a household with at least one potentially DAPA-eligible adult. Providing immigrant parents with relief from deportation holds huge potential for improving children’s health. By allowing more parents and family members to come out of the shadows, children in immigrant families, including mixed-status families—or those where some family members are legally present and others are undocumented—would be willing to enroll in public coverage options like Medicaid or CHIP. Though many of these children were already eligible for these coverage options, fears of deportation and immigration enforcement continue to prevent many parents from getting their children covered, particularly in this climate of continuing immigration enforcement actions.
In preventing implementation of expanded DACA and DAPA, the decision also stunted the potential for further health coverage gains, and these gains would have been greatest in California. California provides state-funded, full-scope Medi-Cal benefits to anyone with an eligibility determination known as Permanently Residing in the US Under Color of Law (PRUCOL), including DACA and would-be DAPA recipients. In California, approximately 1.5 million children live in families where a parent would have been eligible for DAPA, of whom 223,000 are eligible for Medi-Cal but uninsured. Already, an estimated 11,000 Californians who qualified for the original 2012 DACA program have enrolled in Medi-Cal (Note again that the 2012 DACA program is still in effect and open for applications and renewals). In total, as many as 1.1 million Californians could have gained coverage had there been access to the expanded DACA and DAPA programs. Without access to comprehensive health insurance for both parents and children alike, many of these children will remain uninsured as their families continue to live in the shadows.
Without this step forward in immigration reform, our national immigration policies continue to harm the healthy development of immigrant and citizen children alike. A growing body of evidence in recent years has shown that children in mixed-status families face unique health issues not faced by children in other families. For these children, adverse childhood experiences such as the constant threat of a parent or loved one being deported can have immense impacts on their development, including increased occurrences of depression and anxiety. As a result, there is a real and tangible impact on brain development, performance in school, and long-term life outcomes. Providing immigrant family members a path to legal status will have a major impact on many kids in immigrant communities.
In the absence of national action on immigration, states are moving forward to better serve their residents. In California, the state has expanded Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented immigrant children, with the potential to open doors to the security coverage provides to 185,000 kids in the state. Efforts are continuing to identify ways to secure health coverage for every member of the family. Additionally, those who are granted deferred action under the original DACA program will continue to benefit from state-funded Medi-Cal for PRUCOL. While we applaud the efforts of the handful of states around the country that have taken similar actions, the overwhelming majority of undocumented children and families in the nation will remain locked out of critical health coverage.
Along with the disappointment in today’s decision comes a renewed commitment to the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Georgetown CCF and The Children’s Partnership, along with other partner organizations, continue to work alongside families to make sure everyone in this country, no matter where they were born, feel welcomed and supported as members of our shared community. Providing undocumented immigrant families in this country a path to citizenship is about even more than work authorizations or green cards. It is about creating peace of mind, building healthier communities, and investing in the future—for the sake of all our children and families.