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U.S. Hispanics riled over immigrants’ healthcare exclusion
By Tim Gaynor
President Barack Obama’s signature battle to overhaul the United States’ $2.5 trillion healthcare industry to extend coverage and lower costs for Americans has met fierce opposition from Republicans.
But a move by Democrat backers to exclude 12 million illegal immigrants from buying health coverage and restrict the participation of authorized migrants has drawn the ire of U.S. Hispanics — a bloc that overwhelmingly turned out to vote for Obama in last year’s election.
Hispanic lawmakers and activists are riled by the bill pushed in the U.S. Senate by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, which denies illegal immigrants the option to buy health insurance and places a five-year wait period on legal immigrants before they can access health benefits.
“When we effectively bar the immigrant community from buying private insurance, we force them further into the shadows of our society, and we relegate them to emergency room care at the highest cost to taxpayers,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, told a conference call with reporters this week.
Obama has so far been popular with U.S. Hispanics. His backing for comprehensive immigration reform, which seeks to allow millions of illegal immigrants in good standing a chance to pay fines and become citizens, helped win him two-thirds of the Latino vote in last November’s election.
But activists say the push to exclude undocumented workers from paying for healthcare — even for their U.S. born children — is testing support for Obama among Latinos, who make up 15 percent of the population and 9 percent of the electorate.
“The Latino vote was based on promises that a new administration would lead us out of the darkness and finally bring about immigration reform,” said Lorena Colin of the Mexican American Coalition for Immigration Reform, a Chicago-based pro-immigrant grassroots group.
“Instead, we are seeing the administration allowing undocumented immigrants to become scapegoats and the targets of widespread derision and hate in the healthcare debate,” she added.
Reverend Luis Cortés, Jr., meanwhile, the president of a prominent Hispanic evangelical network Esperanza said he was disillusioned with the Democrats, and warned that Hispanics voters would punish lawmakers who denied immigrants care in the midterm Congressional elections in 2010.
“All we can do at this point is look at each local election, one by one, and punish those individuals-regardless of their party-who deny rights to legal immigrants and children, as well as the poorest in our nation, the undocumented,” he said.