The Obamacare and immigration debates collided Tuesday as Health and Human Services chief Sylvia Burwell called for extending Obamacare benefits to DREAM-eligible illegal immigrants.
Burwell was speaking on a public Google hangout with prominent Latina bloggers to promote Saturday’s opening of the Obamacare enrollment period when she shifted to her thoughts on immigration reform.
“DREAMers are not able to be covered in the marketplace. And this is an issue that I think is more than a health care issue — it is an immigration issue,” Burwell said in response to a question about whether families with mixed immigration statuses can get coverage.
“And I think everyone probably knows that this administration feels incredibly strongly about the fact that we need to fix that. We need to reform the system and make the changes that we need that will lead to benefits in everything from health care to economics to so many things — a very important step that we need to take as a nation.”
Only legal immigrants are eligible for Obamacare benefits, but liberal and pro-immigration groups have asked that Obamacare benefits be extended to illegal immigrants as well. Several groups have also advocated for the Obama administration to mandate Obamacare exchange eligibility for DREAMers, a term used to describe illegal immigrants who are granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.
Burwell also addressed a recent Los Angeles Times report that found legal immigrants are avoiding Obamacare exchanges out of fear that any family members who are in the country illegally will be found out and punished thanks to their participation in the government program.
In March, President Obama went on the Spanish-language TV network Univision to promise Latinos that any information gleaned during the Obamacare enrollment process would not be turned over to immigration officials. During the first open enrollment, outreach workers were encouraged to carry a letter from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement echoing that promise, but it seemed to only make most people more nervous.
The fear is not completely unfounded. Even legal residents have had coverage terminated by the federal government this fall after an Obamacare glitch repeatedly refused to accept their legal status.
“Everyone should come on [to the Obamacare exchanges],” Burwell said, “And folks should not be scared, because this is not information…no questions will be asked, this is not an immigration issue.”
Watch the Google hangout below: