President Biden’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said he would not support giving taxpayer-funded health care benefits to illegal immigrants.
When asked during testimony before Congress on Wednesday whether he would consider granting waivers to give health care benefits to illegal immigrants as HHS secretary — given his history of supporting the policy — Becerra said his interpretation of the law as it stands does not support that.
“Where the law as it stands now as I see it, it does not allow those who are unauthorized in this country to receive taxpayer-paid benefits except in very rare circumstances,” Becerra said. “And it will be my job to make sure that we are following and enforcing the law.”
As noted by Politico, in 2009 Becerra had been hoping for more health care options under the Affordable Care Act for illegal immigrants, and he engaged in discussions with Barack Obama to try to have those options included. Ultimately, they were not, as Becerra alluded to on Wednesday.
Becerra said Obama’s decision to compromise with Republicans was “more than disturbing.”
California submitted a request to the Obama administration in 2016 that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to buy health care plans in the state. That request was withdrawn in 2017.
If confirmed to serve as HHS Secretary, Becerra would have the authority to potentially grant waivers allowing undocumented immigrants to have access to the health care exchanges.
That has become a focal point among Becerra’s GOP opponents, like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who claimed Becerra would decriminalize illegal immigration and “extend expensive government benefits like Medicaid to anyone who illegally crosses our borders.”
Becerra, who is the child of immigrants, said his focus on health care as a right was born out of his personal experience.
“We knew we could go to the doctor — and everybody should know that,” Becerra said during an interview with California Healthline. “For me, health care is a right. I’ve been a single-payer advocate all my life.”