Washington – Many immigrants, particularly those without legal documents but often even those in the country legally, have traditionally opted to steer clear of federal programs, even if they stood to benefit from them.
President Obama wants them to know, at least those with legal status, that they need not fear of repercussions if they sign up for Obamcare.
The Obama administration is stressing that information submitted while signing up for coverage will not be used to enforce immigration law.
That's always been the practice, but lingering fear among some immigrants that personal details could be used against them prompted the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to issue a clarification.
In a memo released late Friday, the agency reiterated that it does not use information provided during the enrollment process to pursue civil immigration enforcement.
People living illegally in the U.S. are barred from benefits under the Affordable Care Act health law, but U.S. citizens and legal residents living with them may be eligible. Such households are typically referred to as "mixed status," since some members of the family may be citizens or residents, while others lack legal st
Some applicants must provide information on the citizenship status of those who live with them to help make sure the household is processed correctly.
ICE "does not use information about such individuals or members of their household that is obtained for purposes of determining eligibility for such coverage as the basis for pursuing a civil immigration enforcement action against such individuals or members of their household," the memo said.
Gillian Christensen, an agency spokeswoman, said that statement is consistent with the agency's longstanding practices.
The agency "is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and egregious immigration law violators," Christensen said.
Immigrant advocates welcomed the administration's decision to be clear about how a person's information will be used.
Jennifer Ng'andu, a health policy expert with the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group, said advocates want uninsured Hispanics to not be afraid to sign up for coverage.
"For us, it's an imperative to make sure that the community is informed about this because we want people to be reassured that they can look at their options without fear, figure out if they're eligible and pursue the enrollment process," Ng'andu said.