At a town hall meeting in Louisiana, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) promoted the myth that undocumented immigrants will reap the benefits of health care reform by reasoning that “they always do.” He also proclaimed that what the nation is really facing is an immigration enforcement problem (as opposed to a health care problem) because “a quarter” of the “45 or 48 million” who are uninsured in the US are undocumented immigrants:
“There’s nothing in the bill that says it covers illegal aliens. Under the four corners of the bill it does not. But guess what? There’s nothing in all of these other benefit programs that says it goes to illegals either. And in practice it absolutely does, it always does. It always does.
Furthermore, now when the other side talks about 45, 48 million uninsured, a full quarter of that figure — one quarter — are illegal aliens. Now I’ll be God-honest with ya, I think that’s the problem. But I think that’s a law enforcement problem, not a health insurance problem.“
Vitter’s claim that undocumented immigrants will receive health care benefits under a bill that excludes them simply because “they always do” is completely ludicrous. Most legal immigrants have difficulty accessing the few public benefits they are even qualified to receive. That’s because of the many obstacles created by stringent verification requirements which serve as barriers for eligible immigrants and US citizens alike.
The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act prohibited undocumented immigrants from being eligible for most public benefits, restricted the eligibility of legal immigrants, and codified procedures for verifying elgibility in a way that guaranteed that almost no immigrant would slip through cracks in theory and in practice. In the case of Medicaid, citizenship requirements led to thousands of Americans being denied or losing coverage, new administrative costs that “far exceeded the savings” by millions of dollars, and only a small handful of undocumented immigrants were caught all within the first two years alone.
Simple math shows that even if you eliminate a quarter of 45 million from the total number of uninsured, that still leaves over 33 million citizens and legal US residents without health insurance. The fact that Vitter is willing to sidestep a situation in which millions of Americans are dying or going broke without health insurance and instead focus on harshly enforcing our immigration laws says a lot about Vitter’s ability to effectively serve the American people.
Vitter has dedicated more of his political career to making life harder for immigrants than he’s devoted to improving the lives of Americans. After helping to derail comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, Vitter introduced English-only legislation that would have terminated language assistance at voting booths and federal agencies and was the only Senator who opposed the removal of the HIV travel and immigration ban. Vitter has also proposed legislation to overturn the 14th Amendment and the US-born children of undocumented immigrants citizenship.
Republished with permission from the Wonk Room/Think Progress