Judge Temporarily Halts New Immigration Healthcare Rule

A federal judge temporarily blocked a new healthcare requirement for immigrants.EXPAND
A federal judge temporarily blocked a new healthcare requirement for immigrants.
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Texas immigration advocates are pleased about a temporary reprieve from a new rule that would require immigrants to show proof of health insurance in order to enter the United States — the latest executive order aimed at curtailing immigration to the country.

“We really do think this is a good sign that the courts are in agreement with us that these rules aren't in the best interest of the U.S.,” said Melissa McChesney, a health and wellness policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank based in Austin.

The rule, which was due to go into effect Sunday, required that most types of immigrants seeking to enter the United States show proof of insurance or the ability to get insurance within 30 days of entering the country. Judge Michael H. Simons, of the U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon, blocked the rule from taking effect for no more than 28 days.

The rule has tremendous potential to affect Texas because of the state's large immigrant population, McChesney said. Between 2000 and 2017, Texas added more immigrants to its population than any other state, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The judge's order was based on a lawsuit filed with his court on Wednesday, which argued that the rule is vague, oversteps the bounds of a president's proclamation power and is outside of and unconnected to existing immigration law. Furthermore, the suit says, by allowing less than 48 hours for public comment, the rule's publication violated public comment procedure.

The order was the latest in a series of measures attempting to curtail immigration to the country that advocates and critics say deliberately target lower income and nonwhite immigrants and are designed to make the immigration process more daunting than it already is.

“The point is to make people unwelcome,” said Cheasty Anderson, a policy analyst at the Texas branch of the Children's Defense Fund. “The point is to make people give up.”

According to the Migrant Policy Institute, the rule has the potential to block two-thirds of all legal immigrants, or 375,000 people per year, from entering the country.

The temporary restraining order comes less than three weeks after several federal judges blocked the Trump administration's proposed revisions to the public charge rule. That rule would bar immigrants seeking green cards from using public assistance like Medicaid and food stamps.

By issuing these orders from the White House, the Trump administration is trying to circumvent the congressional process and make voters afraid, Anderson said.

“They have chosen immigration and immigrants, particularly black and brown, as the bogie men to keep themselves in power,” she said.

The new immigration requirement, if it does eventually go into effect, prohibits immigrants from entering the country if they do not have health insurance, cannot get it within 30 days or cannot show proof of an ability to pay for medical costs for the foreseeable future. It also does not allow immigrants to purchase subsidized healthcare plans through the insurance marketplace or to use Medicaid.

Instead, those who are not insured through an employer or some other means often end up purchasing short-term healthcare plans. While these plans used to be limited to three months, when the federal government repealed the Affordable Care Act's insurance mandate, that limitation also went away, McChesney said.

Although some states passed new restrictions on the so-called short-term plans, Texas did not. Now, it is possible to be on one for up to 12 months.

And the problem with these plans is that they do not cover preexisting conditions and often do not meet the requirement for basic medical coverage and don't actually cover medical expenses, McChesney said.

“[You're] exposing yourself to financial hardship,” she said.

Even though neither the public charge rule change nor the new healthcare requirement has gone into effect, and both are currently held up in court, the fear they have created for immigrants is still palpable and significant.

“Whether they officially went into effect or not, there was an impact on our communities,” McChesney said.

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