Undocumented immigrants may be eligible for federal COVID care, but a larger issue looms
by Nolan Rappaport


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Should federal funds be used to cover the cost of providing hospital care for undocumented immigrants who have severe cases of COVID-19? It would be the right thing to do. But is it possible? And if it is, will congress be willing to provide the funds that would be needed to do it?

President William J. Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) into law on Aug. 22, 1996, to fulfill his 1992 campaign promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” The act made it illegal to give public funds to undocumented immigrants, establishing comprehensive restrictions on immigrant eligibility for federal public benefits because — according to the act — “It is a compelling government interest to remove the incentive for illegal immigration provided by the availability of public benefits.”

Section 401(a) limits federal public benefits to “qualified aliens,” but there are some exceptions. The law defines “qualified alien” as an alien who, when he applies for and when he receives a Federal public benefit —
  1. has Lawful Permanent Resident status;
  2. has been granted asylum;
  3. has been admitted as a refugee;
  4. has been paroled into the U.S. for a period of at least one year; or
  5. has had his deportation withheld under section 8 USC §1231(b)(3)(A).
This made undocumented aliens ineligible for most federal benefits, such as non-emergency Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and most housing assistance programs.

The exceptions include medical assistance under Title XIX of the Social Security Act for care that is necessary for the treatment of an emergency medical condition and public health assistance for immunizations or for testing or treatment of communicable disease symptoms. And Section 1903(v)(3) of the Social Security Act provides that the term “emergency medical condition” means a medical condition manifesting itself with acute symptoms of sufficient severity that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in —
  1. placing the patient’s health in serious jeopardy;
  2. serious impairment to bodily functions; or
  3. serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.
Consequently, PRWORA may not prohibit public funding for treating undocumented immigrants who need hospitalization for COVID-19, but PRWORA is not the only problem.

Read more at https://thehill.com/opinion/immigrat...vid-care-but-a

Published originally on The Hill.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow him on Twitter @NolanR1 or at https://nolanrappaport.blogspot.com.