Sen. Jeff Flake’s bill to enshrine the DACA program in law would also make the illegal immigrant “Dreamers” eligible for Obamacare — including perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in annual taxpayer subsidies to buy health plans, Congressional scorekeepers said this week.
Mr. Flake, Arizona Republican, tried to power his bill through the Senate on Tuesday, but was blocked by another senator.
His bill would offer those who qualified for the original DACA program a new, three-year legal status, which would include permission to work in the country legally, in exchange for $7 billion — or about three year’s worth of funding — for President Trump’s planned border wall.
The Congressional Budget Office said that legislation means they would have access to Obamacare, including the ability to buy plans on the exchanges, with the taxpayer subsidies that usually come with it.
As written, the 2010 Affordable Care Act excluded illegal immigrants from eligibility.
But Mr. Flake’s three-year status, which he dubbed “Provisional Protected Presence,” says those approved are deemed to be lawfully present during their time in the program.
The CBO, in a preliminary estimate provided to lawmakers, said the costs could run into “hundreds of millions of dollars per year.”
Mr. Flake’s office said that was never the intent. Spokesman Jason Samuels said they had intended to continue the program as it existed when created by Mr. Obama in 2012, and they should not get “any support beyond what they already have access to.”
“We’re working to get more clarity on CBO’s methodology, especially since their estimate neglects to include the millions of dollars in taxes and fees that would be collected by allowing DACA recipients to continue working,” Mr. Samuels said.
The senator, who is giving up his seat at the end of this year, has been leading efforts to find a permanent legal status for Dreamers. He had pushed for a more expansive proposal during last month’s debate, but the Senate stalemated, and President Trump’s March 5 phaseout deadline came and went without action.
While federal courts have put the phaseout on hold, Mr. Flake says Congress should act to at least prevent DACA recipients from facing sudden possible deportation.
His three-year proposal was meant to be a stopgap solution, hoping to convince both sides to accept short-term wins on their goals.
“At least it will give three years to those who are affected and give us in Congress some time to actually come to a solution,” he said Tuesday as he tried to force his plan through the Senate.
Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican who has also been working on the issue, blocked him, saying the issue needs a permanent solution.
“Let’s get on it. Let’s resolve it long term, and let’s provide a sense of permanency to this solution, not another temporary patch that will end up being the same temporary patch we will do three years from now, three years after that, and three years after that,” Mr. Lankford said.
Mr. Lankford suggested passing Mr. Trump’s immigration plan, which would have granted a pathway to citizenship to as many as 1.8 million illegal immigrants, coupled with full funding for his border wall, limits to the chain of family migration and other policy changes.
Immigrants legalized under that plan would also be immediately eligible for Obamacare, according to a CBO analysis.
With the March 5 phaseout deadline passed, Homeland Security said Wednesday it would not target DACA program recipients for deportation. That includes not only those actively in the program but those who allowed their status to lapse, but have reapplied.
“DHS has repeatedly stated that, absent additional negative factors, DACA recipients are not a priority or target group for arrest or removal,” said department spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton.
He said there are some exceptions, such as those who amass criminal records, but “an individual who is a current DACA recipient, or who was a previous DACA recipient but has filed for renewal, will not be targeted for arrest nor will be removed from the United States while the individual has DACA protections or while the DACA renewal request is pending.”