Budget Amendment Foreshadows Immigration Debate Ahead

Mar 29, 2013

By Helly Lee

Denying access to critical resources such as health care and nutrition can create serious problems for children and families, and costs us all in the long run. However, some in Congress will seek to do just that during discussions on immigration reform in the coming months. We've seen efforts to limit immigrant access to resources in past immigration debates, and we saw it again recently in our budget debate.

This week, it may seem quiet on Capitol Hill as Congress is in recess, but last Friday was full of action on the Senate floor as the budget vote-a-rama was in full swing. Among the hundreds of amendments introduced, Senator Sessions (AL) offered one that would have prohibited both undocumented and lawfully present immigrants from qualifying for health care subsidies through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid. The amendment would have affected millions of immigrants who have earned legal status from access to health care. Senator Menendez (NJ) offered a counter amendment restating current law that undocumented immigrants are already not eligible to receive federal benefits. Senator Sessions' amendment was defeated by a vote of 43-56. Democratic senators, all of whom opposed the amendment, were joined by Republican Senators Collins (ME) and Murkowski (AK), as well as Independent Senators King (ME) o and Sanders (VT). Senator Menendez's amendment was passed by voice vote.

Congress is currently working on bi-partisan immigration reform legislation and the Senate "Gang of Eight" is expected to drop its bill soon after members come back from recess in early April. While the Sessions amendment failed, the debate around it provides a window into what can be expected as immigration reform legislation takes a front seat in the coming months.

We can expect that in the upcoming immigration reform debates, additional efforts to limit the ability of low-income immigrants to access health care and other economic supports will arise. CLASP has joined with 360 other organizations across the country in an open letter to the President and Congress to take a proactive stand on health and nutrition access for immigrants, and will work alongside advocates to protect access to vital services.

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