Health care reform opponents have emptied their grab bag of scare tactics in all-out assault on the various House and Senate bills. Many reform foes have fixed on illegal immigration as their bugbear of choice. They seek to confuse the public and distort the debate by blurring the lines between health care and immigration policy. But instead they have illuminated the cavernous gulf between those who want to solve tough problems and those who want to preserve the status quo.
Solving the health care crisis and immigration crisis are both urgent national priorities. It is obvious to those interested in solutions that each crisis presents its own complex policy challenges that must be tackled on their own terms. Health care reform will not end illegal immigration and immigration reform will not reverse the crippling effects of uncontrolled health care costs. Nonetheless, health reform adversaries propagate an endless stream of allegations seeking to conflate the two crises and misrepresent the policy proposals on the table.
The fallacy du jour from the status quo caucus is that the current bills will extend health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants. Belying this baseless claim—delivered with a heavy dose of self-righteous indignation—are provisions in the bills explicitly prohibiting any federal payments for illegal immigrants. Moreover, when asked point blank whether health care reform will provide coverage to illegal immigrants, President Barack Obama has answered “no” repeatedly. He has made it clear that the health care crisis requires one solution and the illegal immigration crisis requires another.
Facts notwithstanding, the bogus charge that millions of illegal immigrants will get free health care has been repeated in press releases, television appearances, and radio spots. This fear-mongering formula is all too familiar: (1) conjure a link, however tenuous or imaginary, between the disfavored policy and illegal immigration, (2) shout from the hilltops about the fraud being perpetrated on America, then (3) launch ad hominem attacks against the patriotism of the policy proponents. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Our goal at CAP is to solve both the health care and illegal immigration crises, in contrast to the status quo caucus. For health care that means enacting legislation that makes coverage affordable to as many people as possible. It means that if you are in the system, you are protected and that everyone has clear rules to follow and is paying their fair share. All U.S. citizens and legal immigrants must be covered. The more people covered, the better and more affordable health care will be for all of us. Legal immigrants are taxpayers and contributors to our communities. They want to pay their fair share and receive affordable coverage like every other American. We undermine our own goals of reducing costs and covering all Americans if we leave them behind.
Solving the immigration crisis means enacting reforms that align our immigration system with 21st-century realities. Comprehensive immigration reform must require illegal immigrants to register, go through security screening, pay taxes, and learn English. It also must facilitate labor mobility and strengthen legal immigration channels while creating enforceable labor standards. Reforming our legal immigration system will enable us to develop smart enforcement policies that restore the rule of law and promote core values.
The American public overwhelmingly wants Congress to solve the health care and immigration crises. Scare tactics by status quo preservationists must be exposed for what they are: transparent efforts to subvert reform that will lead the country forward.
Marshall Fitz is Director of Immigration Policy at American Progress.
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