President Joe Biden announced Thursday that his administration plans to expand health care coverage to young adults without legal status who have been in the U.S. since they were children and are working or studying under the DACA program.
Under Biden’s plan, beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be able to enroll in a health plan through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act.
"Today's announcement is about giving DACA recipients the same opportunities," Biden said in a video statement on Twitter. "We'll continue doing what we can to protect Dreamers."
DACA, which was implemented in 2012 as an executive order in the Obama administration, allowed eligible undocumented young adults who came to the U.S. to work and study without fear of deportation.
The Department of Health and Human Services is expected to propose a rule to expand the definition of “lawful presence” to include DACA recipients for purposes of Medicaid and Affordable Care Act coverage, according to the White House.
The Biden administration expects to get it done by the end of April.
If it is finalized, it would be the first time DACA recipients are eligible for those health care programs.
DACA recipients would be able to apply for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, where they may qualify for financial assistance based on income, and through their state Medicaid agencies, the White House said.
More than 600,000 DACA recipients live in the U.S. An overwhelming majority were born in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigrant youth-led organization, celebrated the announcement as a "major victory."
"Having good reliable health care is a human need, and this rule change will mean that more people will have the life saving health care coverage they need to take care of themselves and their families," Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, the organization's deputy director of federal advocacy, said in a statement.
A 2021 survey by the National Immigration Law Center found that 34% of surveyed DACA recipients were living without any kind of health insurance, compared to 10% of the general population.
"We all contribute to the health care programs so it was unconscionable that DACA recipients were barred from eligibility for ACA, Medicaid and other government subsidized health care," Macedo do Nascimento said.
Groups like United We Dream and lawmakers such as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, have called on the Biden administration to implement the rule.
"I’m pleased to see the Biden administration is responding to our calls to take this important step," Cortez Masto, the first and only Latina senator, said in a statement. "DACA recipients are an essential part of our community."
Castro said in a statement: “For more than ten years, hundreds of thousands of young Americans have been unfairly excluded from the affordable health insurance they need. Today’s announcement will give DACA recipients access to the same care as their neighbors and build healthier communities for all of us."
While DACA has been around for a decade, it has faced legal challenges from the Trump administration and Republican-led states. The program has been closed to new registrants since July 2021 while a lawsuit filed by Texas and other GOP-led states makes its way through the courts.
To improve the chances that DACA will survive legal battles, the Biden administration implemented a rule in October that turned the program into a federal regulation.
A federal judge in Texas is expected to rule on the legality of the new rule this year.