Immigration Activists Seek Quicker Access to Medicaid

James Rufus Koren, San Bernardino Sun, December 25, 2009

Immigrants rights groups are seeking to change federal law so that legal immigrants won’t have to wait five years before becoming eligible for Medicaid.

Critics say such a change could make the U.S. a magnet for infirm immigrants.

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Isabel Alegria, a spokeswoman for the California Immigrant Policy Center, said there’s no good rationale for leaving legal immigrants without Medicaid, a federally funded program that is administered by individual states.

“These are lawful residents who pay into the system and should be able to take advantage of it if they come into hard times,” she said.

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“The American taxpayer should not be burdened with other countries’ medical problems,” he [Raymond Herrera, a local opponent of illegal immigration] said.

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Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, who has been a strong proponent of immigration reform, said he doesn’t want to remove the five-year waiting period.

“That’s the price people pay to become legal citizens,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, who voted against the House version of the healthcare bill and likely won’t vote for whatever comes out of the conference committee, seemed open to the idea of removing the waiting period.

“I’m not supportive of putting restrictions on people who are here legally,” he said. “The law ought to apply to all people who are citizens and who are here legally.”

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