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California’s proposal is smart, compassionate, and is a win-win for taxpayers and undocumented immigrants.

Last week a group of California lawmakers asked the Obama Administration to allow them to go forward with a plan to offer health insurance to undocumented immigrants. Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, the undocumented are currently prohibited from accessing “Obamacare” coverage, with or without federal subsidies. Now California is seeking an “Innovation Waiver” from the government under a section of the ACA that allows states to experiment with approaches to getting residents covered. If approved, up to 30% of the state’s 2 million undocumented residents could potentially be eligible to buy into the state’s health insurance exchange.

California’s proposal is smart, compassionate, and makes good economic sense. It is a practical solution to a significant problem. If approved, it could potentially serve as a model for other states.

To be clear, California’s undocumented immigrants would not be buying health insurance with any kind of federal or state subsidy. This plan would not increase the deficit or cost state taxpayers anything. Undocumented immigrants would be paying the full costs of coverage under the state’s health exchange.

Should it win approval from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Treasury, California’s proposal would be a win-win for state residents. The state health exchange would benefit from bringing in additional enrollees; California lawmakers estimate that 17,000 undocumented immigrants would participate in the first year if the administration grants the waiver request. Their participation would benefit the plan’s broader pool of enrollees by lowering costs, because immigrants tend to be younger and healthier than other Americans. Undocumented immigrants would gain from having access to comprehensive health coverage, instead of the higher-priced, limited plans many buy now.

California’s decision to seek a waiver passed the state legislature with bipartisan support, and Governor Jerry Brown signed off on it as well. Consider that the state’s health exchange, known as “Covered California,” has been one of “Obamacare’s” success stories. But California is home to about a quarterof the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. This group’s lack of coverage is a threat to the overall health of other residents. Healthier outcomes for all would be achieved by bringing more undocumented immigrants into the state exchange. It would also save money. Right now, if undocumented people get sick, they probably end up in an emergency room, and taxpayers foot the bill. One state lawmaker estimates that ER visits by the undocumented cost California $1.7 billion a year. If more undocumented people had preventative care and insurance of their own, these costs would likely drop.

What California hopes to do is shift some of the burden of paying for health coverage onto undocumented immigrants. As The Wall Street Journal has reported, our country’s undocumented population has become so large that some county governments have begun making public health services available to anyone, without asking about immigration status. The Journal surveyed 25 counties with the largest undocumented immigrant population; 20 were offering doctor visits, lab tests, shots and other services to all low-income residents. Among these locales were California’s Los Angeles County, Riverside County, Orange County and San Diego County. Wouldn’t it make better sense to at least get some of these folks to pay their own way?

Such logic has been lost on critics of California’s proposal. “This certainly has the potential to become a welfare magnet. You could easily imagine families with high medical expenses moving to California,” Michael F. Cannon, the director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute told The New York Times. Yet this is not a welfare proposal; again, undocumented immigrants would pay the full costs of coverage without any subsidies (and for the record, undocumented immigrants generally pay more in taxes than they ever get back in services). Nor is there any evidence that California’s plan would encourage unauthorized migrants to move there. Cannon’s complaint is pure conjecture.

What we do know are the facts: Our country has no immediate plan to deal with our unauthorized population. They are not going anywhere, anytime soon.  Roughly two-thirds of them have lived here over a decade. Like everyone else, undocumented people get sick. Under the status quo, the sickest end up in public hospitals or the ER — who are required by law to treat them — and we foot the bill.

No one considers that a desirable, long-term outcome. No wonder the editorial board of The New York Timesendorsed California’s proposal.  They called it a “good idea that the Obama administration should support.” They’re right. Should it succeed, California’s plan could serve as an example for other states that want to increase enrollment in health exchanges while lowering taxpayer costs.

California is proposing a small step forward that could have positive implications for public health and immigration policy, and the Obama administration should grant their waiver request. The more people that have health insurance, the better off we all are.

Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.


“Roar of the ‘Mexican thing’”

October 6 2016

by Raul A. Reyes

“Latinos should ‘feel the Bern’”

September 22, 2015

by Raul A. Reyes

“Insure California’s undocumented immigrants”

September 29, 2016

by Raul A. Reyes

When Trump and Pence attack Latinos, they are attacking Americans.

It was a moment that sparked tweets, hashtags, and late-night TV jokes. At Tuesday’s vice presidential debate, Tim Kaine reminded viewers several times of Donald Trump’s history of divisive comments, trying to goad his rival Mike Pence into a response. On the fourth try it worked. “When Donald Trump says women should be punished or Mexicans are rapists,” Kaine began, “or John McCain is not a hero, he is showing you who he is.” Pence’s reply? “Senator, you’ve whipped out that Mexican thing again.”

Perhaps due to its irresistible potential for double-entendres, “that Mexican thing” became the line of the night. But this phrase matters. It reflects the indifference of the Trump campaign towards Hispanic Americans. It reveals the true heart of Mike Pence. Most of all, it matters because “that Mexican thing” swiftly became a rallying cry of pride for Latinos.

“That Mexican thing” is a reminder of how Trump views the Latino community. Trump has scant support among Latinos, and for good reason. He favors a “deportation force” for undocumented immigrants, whom he blames for crime and other social ills. He has questioned the integrity of a distinguished Mexican-American judge, and bullied a former Miss Universe.  Beyond designating that “taco truck on every corner” guy as a surrogate, his campaign has done little meaningful Latino outreach. The only use Latinos seem to have for the Trump campaign is to serve as a scapegoat for anti-immigrant sentiment framed as economic anxiety. To his great discredit, Trump has mainstreamed hate and demagoguery by repeatedly painting Mexico, Latinos, and immigrants as a potential enemy or “the other.”

For his part, Pence does not grasp how offensive what he calls “that Mexican thing” has been to Latinos. When he responded to Kaine, his tone was dismissive, as though the idea of bigotry towards the largest minority group in the country was simply tiresome. Pressed by Kaine on whether he could defend Trump’s remarks, Pence immediately pivoted to how “criminal aliens” are “perpetrating violence and taking American lives,” thereby conflating Latinos and immigrants with dangerous criminals. Pence also falsely insisted that Trump originally said that “many” Mexico’s immigrants are good people. This was not true; Trump only said that some were. Yet the real takeaway in the exchange was that Pence’s reaction to being confronted with Trump’s comments appeared to be a mixture of boredom and disdain. To Pence, Trump’s xenophobia is apparently a non-issue.

If “that Mexican thing” does not matter to Trump or Pence, it certainly matters to Latinos. Time reported that the phrase was the third most-tweeted moment of the debate. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and other outlets noted how the phrase sparked a social media outburst of Latinos sharing stories of our community’s “patriotism and resilience."

Aside from ridiculing Pence for his tone-deafness, tweeters shared family stories under the hashtag #ThatMexicanThing, like “being proud of my heritage, becoming a citizen, & showing up to vote against hate this November,” and “undocumented immigrants pay more taxes" than Donald Trump. Others told of family members serving in the military, or working hard so that the younger generation could succeed. Journalist Jorge Ramos, author Julissa Arce, and Congressman Ruben Gallego weighed in too, reminding the world that Pence’s remark itself was insulting. No wonder that The Houston Chronicle termed this hashtag “an energizer for Latinos.” Plus, the Clinton campaign is likely to use it to rally Latino support.

This organic online pushback should concern the GOP. Donald Trump’s presidency is increasingly looking like a long shot, which could endanger down-ballot races. The controversy over “that Mexican thing” is yet another reminder that Latinos are highly engaged in this election, as we know how much is at stake.

“That Mexican thing” matters because Latinos are tired of our community being demonized or dismissed. We are more than a wedge issue. We are not things. We are Americans. We are voters. And come November, we will be heard.

Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

Bernie Sanders holds positions on education, jobs and health care that should appeal to Hispanics.

He is the improbable candidate with unruly hair who is upsetting the 2016 race. He is the candidate who reliably draws huge crowds. He is the candidate who is unafraid to voice bold opinions. And his name is not Donald Trump. He is Sen. Bernie Sanders, currently surging in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But so far Sanders has not won over Latino voters, a critical part of any successful White House run. That’s a shame, because the Sanders campaign is centered on issues that should resonate with the Latino community. Just as Sanders has lately been reaching out to Hispanics, we would do well to return the favor and “Feel The Bern.”

There’s no denying that Hillary Clinton enjoys overwhelming support from Latinos. A July poll by Univision found that 73% of Latino voters would vote for Clinton in the Democratic primary. Yet 68% did not know of or had not formed an opinion of Sanders. This means that, despite Clinton’s impressive numbers, Sanders still has plenty of time and potential to cut into them.

If Latinos are willing to give Sanders a chance, they will see that he has much to offer. He has been fighting for the civil rights of all Americans for decades. Like most Latinos, he believes that the government has an important role to play in solving big problems. Unlike Clinton, Sanders does not have to apologize to voters for email irregularities or a vote for the war in Iraq — nor is he beholden to corporate bankers.

Research from Latino Decisions shows that Latinos are generally progressive voters. So it’s worth noting that on the issues that matter most to Latinos — education, jobs, and health care — Sanders is actually more progressive than Clinton. Sanders supports free public college education, an idea that should be attractive to Latinos, who complete college at lower rates than other Americans. He has proposed a $15 minimum wage, while Clinton believes that goes too far. He wants single-payer health care, which would greatly benefit Latinos, who are still the largest uninsured demographic.

Sanders is an ally on immigration as well. He has said, ”Economically and morally, it is unacceptable that we have millions of workers who are living in the shadows.” He favors comprehensive reform and a path to citizenship for the undocumented, and wants to end the “bed quota” that results in thousands of immigrants being placed in for-profit detention centers. Last week, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert he denounced Donald Trump for “appealing to the baser instincts among us, xenophobia and, frankly, racism.” Echoing the views of Latinos nationwide, he termed Trump’s campaign “disgraceful.”

True, Sanders is not perfect. He worried some immigration reform advocates when he suggested at a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce forum that immigrants take jobs from Americans. But Clinton has made missteps too, like last year when she stated that child migrants from Central America should be sent back, a position seemingly at odds with her longstanding commitment to human rights. To his credit, Sanders has been trying to connect with Latinos, at appearances in Nevada and before advocacy groups like National Council of La Raza. He has also hired Latino staffers for key roles in his campaign.

Hillary Clinton has been a friend to the Latino community for many years. Still, while loyalty to a candidate for the past is admirable, it is more important to consider which candidate would be the best fit for the future. If more Latinos back Sanders, it will make Clinton a better candidate by offering her real competition in the race for the nomination. It will remind politicians that we are not a monolithic voting group to be taken for granted.

Bernie Sanders is a candidate with a progressive track record and an ambitious vision for the future. He deserves a closer look from Latino voters.