FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden speaks at the National Association of Counties (NACO) Legislative Conference in Washington, US, February 14, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File photo

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden announced Thursday that hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States illegally will be able to apply for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges as children.

The move would allow participants in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to access government-funded health insurance programs.

“They are Americans in every way but on paper,” Biden said in a video posted on his Twitter page. “We need to give dreamers the opportunities and support they deserve.”

The move could generate significant pushback from conservative leaders in states that have been reluctant to expand Medicaid and criticized the Biden administration’s response to immigrants entering the United States illegally. Although the federal government provides funding and guidelines for Medicaid, the program is administered by the states.

Then-President Barack Obama launched the DACA initiative in 2012 to protect from deportation immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents as children and allow them to work legally in the country. However, the immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” were still ineligible for the government-subsidized health insurance program because they did not meet Biden’s definition of having a “lawful presence” in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. end of month

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The White House’s action comes as the DACA program is in legal jeopardy and the number of eligible people shrinks.

An estimated 580,000 people were still enrolled in DACA at the end of last year, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. This number is less than the previous year. The court order currently prevents the US Department of Homeland Security from processing new applications. The DACA program has been plagued by legal challenges for years, while Congress has been unable to reach a consensus on broader immigration reform.

DACA recipients can legally work and must pay taxes, but they do not have full legal status and are denied many benefits, including access to federally funded health insurance available to US citizens and foreign nationals living in the US.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people signed up for Medicaid, the program that provides health care coverage for the poorest Americans. And the government has increased federal subsidies to reduce the cost of insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act marketplace. As of last year, only 8% of Americans were without health insurance, according to Health and Human Services.

But immigrants living in the U.S. without documentation are more likely than others to not have health insurance. More than a third of DACA recipients are estimated to be without health care coverage, HHS said. About half of the nearly 20 million immigrants living in the U.S. without documentation are uninsured, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Giving more people insurance could have a positive impact on the entire health care system because it would give more people access to routine checkups and avoid emergency visits, said Jamila Michener, associate professor of government and policy at Cornell University.

“Having a large group of people who live, work, go to school and make their home in the United States but cannot access essential health benefits is bad for everyone,” Michener said in an email. “This makes preventive care less accessible which in turn increases the cost of urgent care.”

While there is bipartisan support for enacting some form of protection for immigrants, the debate often breaks down over whether expanding border security and protections could encourage others to try to enter the United States without permission. Biden, a Democrat, has repeatedly called on Congress to provide a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Other categories of immigrants — asylum seekers and people with temporary protected status — are already eligible to buy insurance through the ACA, Obama’s 2010 health care law, often known as “Obamacare.”

FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden speaks at the National Association of Counties (NACO) Legislative Conference in Washington, US, February 14, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File photo

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