California Further Expands Immigrant Rights


In a step towards expanding immigrant rights, California extended health care benefits to  undocumented children in May, a decided step towards immigrant integration in contrast with the state’s contentious fight over immigration two decades ago.

In 1994, California voters approved Proposition 187, named the “Save our State” initiative, which required health care providers to verify the immigration status of anyone seeking health care services. A federal judge blocked the proposition, and the bill was soon withdrawn by the election of Democrat governor Gray Davis. This event was known as one of the catalysts of the state’s Democratic dominance.

21 years later, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law, SB-04, in September 2015 stating “an individual who is under 19 years of age and who does not have satisfactory immigration status – shall be eligible for the full scope of Medi-Cal benefits.”

Medi-Cal is California’s managed health care plan, which is partially funded by the federal government’s Medicaid program. This is significant since federal law does not allow eligibility for undocumented immigrants to receive Medicaid coverage, with the exception of emergency care and some qualified non-citizens who entered the country prior to 1996.

Due to the increase in the state’s Latino population, close to 40 percent, Republicans have struggled to garner opposition to bills such as SB-04 and stop them from passing.

68 percent of voters were supportive of providing health care benefits to undocumented immigrants who have temporary work permits, although only 42 percent supported expanding access to all undocumented immigrants, with 48 disapproving.

Either way, California’s enactment of progressive immigration reform stands in contrast to the federal government’s current inability to decide its own comprehensive immigration reform.

The Senate Bill states that “no child in California should endure suffering and pain due to a lack of access to health care services,” an important distinction, considering 1 out of every 7 undocumented immigrants in California is Asian. This expansion in health care will provided health services for the Asian as well as Hispanic communities in the state.