Guest post by Max Hadler, Senior Health Policy Manager at the New York Immigration Coalition. On Tuesday, September 5, the Trump administration announced that it was terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months. The announcement sets in motion a process to further disrupt the lives of 800,000 individuals who President Trump has been threatening since he launched his campaign in 2015. Created by an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA provides two-year work authorizations and deferral of deportation to DREAMers – people who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, have resided in the country continuously since 2007, do not have a criminal record, and have either graduated from high school, are currently enrolled in an educational program, or have served in the U.S. military.
The cruelty and inhumanity of Trump’s DACA decision have serious health implications. Most acutely, the stress and anxiety caused by the uncertainty around DACA have created an immediate need for mental health services for recipients and their families. The rescission undermines the powerful emotional healing effect DACA has had on U.S. citizen children with DACAmented mothers, an impact recently highlighted in this Science article.
At a time when DACA recipients most need access to comprehensive health coverage, the termination of the program profoundly threatens their eligibility for any coverage at all. As a result of the work authorizations granted by their DACA status, many of the 42,000 DACAmented New Yorkers are covered by employer-sponsored insurance. Once their work authorizations expire, these individuals will lose access to both their jobs and their health insurance.
The impending end of DACA is particularly important in New York. Our state considers DACA recipients to be “permanently residing under color of law,” or PRUCOL, and thus eligible for state-funded Medicaid. As a result, between 5,000 and 10,000 DACAmented New Yorkers have Medicaid coverage. Many advocates believe there is a legal argument that DACA recipients should still be considered PRUCOL after they lose DACA status, but it remains unclear if the State agrees.
Even without a specific legal underpinning, the state can and should continue to cover this population. The Department of Health seemed to acknowledge this by releasing a statement on Tuesday that read in part, “New York State believes it has a legal and moral obligation to exhaust every available avenue to protect immigrants and their families by providing comprehensive access to health care, regardless of circumstance.”
The Coverage 4 All campaign has proposed a number of solutions for New York State. To start, New York can ensure the continued coverage of DACA recipients through state-financed Medicaid. There are also existing policy proposals that would protect a broader range of young adult immigrants, including those who lose their employer-sponsored insurance. Assembly Bill 8054 would expand the Child Health Plus program to age 29, extending New York’s universal children’s coverage program to young adults currently excluded because of their status, including many of the DREAMers who stand to lose their coverage when their DACA authorizations expire.
The DACA decision is only the latest attack on immigrant communities from the Trump administration. In this hostile environment, it is imperative that New York State take action to meaningfully protect and promote the health coverage of its immigrant residents.
*Anyone in New York City in need of mental health services should call NYC WELL, a hotline staffed by licensed counselors trained to help with anxiety, depression, and other issues. NYC WELL counselors have been specifically trained to work with call-ins related to DACA.