Feds: Arizona must deny 'dreamers' MedicaidIllegal immigrants who receive temporary reprieves from deportation will not be eligible for Medicaid benefits, federal health officials say.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's office says the finding by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should resolve the debate surrounding her Aug. 15 executive order telling state agencies to deny all public benefits to young undocumented immigrants who receive deferred action.
However, the ruling, issued Tuesday, addresses only federal health-care eligibility.
by Mary K. Reinhart - Aug. 29, 2012 11:40 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com
Questions still remain about whether states can deny driver's licenses and other benefits covered under Brewer's order, which was issued the day President Barack Obama's new deferred-action program took effect.
The program allows as many as 80,000 Arizonans under 31 years old who were brought to this country illegally as children to apply to stay and work in the U.S.
In a letter Tuesday to state Medicaid directors, CMS Director Cindy Mann said those who receive deferred action won't be eligible for Medicaid or the children's health-insurance program, known in Arizona as KidsCare, because "the reasons that (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) offered for adopting ... the process do not pertain to eligibility for Medicaid."
The letter does not otherwise address the legal status of undocumented immigrants who receive work permits through the deferred-action program.
But Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the Medicaid finding should extend to all public benefits, including state driver's licenses. If program participants aren't considered legal residents for the purposes of Medicaid, he said, they should not qualify for any other government-run program.
"The federal government studied this question and came to the same conclusion Governor Brewer did," Benson told The Arizona Republic. "It does not appear that these individuals have lawful presence."
Certain undocumented immigrants with work permits already receive driver's licenses in Arizona, including refugees and victims of domestic violence. But Benson said those who qualify for deferred action are different because the program was put in place by Obama, not Congress.
"The law is clear: In the state of Arizona, you have to have federally authorized presence in order to receive a driver's license," Benson said. "I don't know how much clearer it could get."
Phoenix attorney Regina Jefferies, chairwoman of the Arizona Immigration Lawyers Association, said Brewer's interpretation is wrong.
Jefferies said there never has been an expectation that the newly deferred illegal immigrants would receive federally funded benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance. But they will meet state requirements for a driver's license, she said, once they receive a work permit.
"People with deferred action qualify, not only under state law, but because the federal government has said they're authorized to be here and work," she said. "But lots of permanent residents don't qualify for Medicaid."
Beyond that, federal immigration law gives discretion to the Cabinet secretary overseeing immigration departments, not Congress, to authorize deferred action.
In addition to income and other requirements, Medicaid recipients must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents for at least five years.
"The deferred-action process is not a path to legal permanent residency or citizenship," said Monica Coury, an assistant director for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Arizona's Medicaid program. "So, those folks still don't meet the bar that's been set for Medicaid."
Indeed, White House and Homeland Security officials have repeatedly said the deferred-action residents will not be given legal status or a path to citizenship, only a chance to temporarily work in the U.S. without being deported.
Officials with the Arizona Department of Transportation, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Division, have said they are reviewing guidelines for issuing driver's licenses.
Currently, the basic requirements are proof of identity, age and "lawful presence under federal law" to be in the U.S., according to the agency.
Dulce Matuz was brought to Arizona 12 years ago as a teenager and has had an Arizona driver's license since February. She now is married to a U.S. citizen and in April was granted conditional resident status, which enables her to work. Matuz said those who receive deferred action should be granted the same benefits, but no one is expecting anything more.
"I think what Governor Brewer is trying to do is attack defenseless young children and youth just to gain some political points," said Matuz, who was among about 200 protesters who marched on the Capitol the day Brewer issued her executive order.
"I think we have proven as 'dreamers' that we want to work really hard," she said. "We don't want any special treatment. All we want is to be able to be on the same playing field and compete."