Author Archives: Jasmin Gamez

DACA Recipients Will Soon Be Eligible for ACA Coverage

DACA Recipients Will Soon Be Eligible for ACA Coverage

By Isobel Mohyeddin 

THE TORCH: CONTENTS
May 8, 2024

Ten years after the opening of the health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has published regulations that end the arbitrary exclusion of DACA recipients from access to affordable, quality health care. This overdue step is a critical victory for equitable access to health care, and we applaud the Biden administration for taking this essential step.

The ACA makes both U.S. citizens and lawfully present noncitizens eligible to obtain health coverage and the subsidies that make it affordable through HealthCare.gov and state-based marketplaces like Covered California. Regrettably, shortly after DACA was established, CMS issued regulations excluding DACA recipients from the ACA’s definition of “lawfully present.” In addition to making DACA recipients ineligible for marketplace plans and subsidies, the agency made them ineligible for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage in states that have exercised the option to cover lawfully residing children and pregnant people. As a result of these exclusionary policies, DACA recipients have faced unmet health care needs and challenges for years – including crushing medical debt.

In April 2023, the Biden administration signaled that it would take steps to address these health disparities. Published just over one year later, the final rule will finally end the exclusion of DACA recipients from the definition of “lawfully present,” making them eligible for coverage and income-based financial assistance through the health care marketplaces. In states that have implemented the Basic Health Program (currently New York and Minnesota), they will be eligible for that program, depending on their income.

The regulations further clarify eligibility for certain other immigrants, including people granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, children seeking asylum or other humanitarian relief and applicants for adjustment to Lawful Permanent Resident status.

DACA recipients will be eligible for ACA enrollment November 1, with coverage beginning as soon as this December. This change in eligibility will require an investment in outreach and enrollment assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other entities to maximize the number of people who gain coverage.

While the final rule is an important step in the right direction, there are still barriers and challenges that need to be addressed., These include the ineligibility of immigrant survivors of violence seeking U visas and deferred action, as well as the exclusion of DACA recipients from eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP in states that have elected to open those programs to lawfully residing immigrant children and people who are pregnant.

The expansion of ACA coverage to DACA recipients is a hard-fought milestone in the larger fight for health for all, but CMS can do more to expand access to critical health care coverage. We encourage President Biden, HHS, and CMS to continue expanding equitable access to health care for everyone who lives in and contributes to this country.

New Policies Strengthen Language Access Protections in Health

New Policies Strengthen Language Access Protections in Health

By Ben D’Avanzo and Gabrielle Lessard  

THE TORCH: CONTENTS
April 30, 2024

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil rights (OCR) has posted its finalized regulation updating Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as the Health Care Rights Law. The final rule strengthens antidiscrimination requirements for recipients of federal health funding and in federal health programs, including prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, age, disability, and national origin. These changes will improve the quality and safety of health care for immigrants, women, LGBTQ+ communities, and individuals with disabilities. In particular, the new regulation strengthens requirements that health entities provide meaningful access to their programs for people with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Covered Entities – The final rule applies to all entities that conduct or administer health-related programs or activities and receive financial assistance from HHS for any part of those activities. It clarifies that the receipt of any type of federal health funds requires compliance, extending Section 1557’s civil rights requirements to health care providers that accept Medicare Part B. The rule further clarifies that all aspects of an entity’s health activities are subject to its provisions if the entity receives federal funds for any part of them. For example, all activities by an issuer that sells plans on health insurance marketplaces like Healthcare.gov are covered, including sales of plans off of the marketplaces. It also prohibits discrimination in telehealth and by subcontractors of federal funds recipients, such as insurance agents and brokers.

Access to Language Services and Qualifications – The original Obama administration Section 1557 regulation required that covered entities make translation and interpretation services by qualified interpreters and translators available to people with limited English proficiency, which remained true under the Trump rule. The new policy adds helpful definitions of qualified interpreter, qualified translator and qualified bilingual/multilingual staff, ensuring that the provision of these services is competent. For example, the rule states that being bilingual alone does not mean an employee is qualified to be an interpreter and that interpreters must be familiar with any specialized vocabulary and terms. It also clarifies that companions are also entitled to these services, such a minor child’s parent with LEP.

Machine Translation – With the proliferation of tools like Google Translate, and the avalanche of artificial intelligence technology, the rule makes clear that machine translation alone is generally insufficient to meet civil rights requirements. Any use of these tools must be reviewed by a qualified human interpreter when the underlying text is critical for meaningful access to an activity or program for people with LEP.

Required Written Procedures – The rule finalizes requirements that covered entities must have written language access policies and procedures, including how employees identify whether someone has LEP and how they can obtain qualified language services. Employees must be trained in these procedures, and covered entities with 15 or more employees must identify a 1557 coordinator on staff.

Civil Rights Notices – Covered entities must take certain steps to inform individuals about their health care civil rights. These include posting public notices of nondiscrimination and including notices of availability of language and disability services in significant documents. All notices about the availability of language assistance must be provided in the top 15 languages in the state or states in which the covered entity operates. For example, the notice of availability must be included on applications for benefits, terminations of eligibility, consent forms, discharge papers, medical bills, and explanations of benefits.

Intersectional Discrimination – The final rule acknowledges that individuals may be discriminated against based on multiple identities, such as being Black and LEP, and that these complaints can be resolved through a single grievance process and with the same enforcement mechanisms. While OCR declined to determine whether discrimination based on immigration status violates the statute, the preamble does contemplate that differential treatment based on suspected immigration status could be a violation.

Compliance Test – The final rule establishes a two-factor standard for OCR to use in assessing whether an entity has complied with the law should it come under investigation, considering the importance of the program and whether the entity has effective written procedures.

Private Right of Action – While HHS declined to specifically adopt regulatory text stating that any individuals may privately litigate any type of discrimination claims under Section 1557, the preamble of the final rule recognizes that courts have consistently found this to be the case.

Effective Date – While the rule will be broadly effective on July 5, 2024, covered entities are given six months to designate 1557 coordinators and a year to develop their policies and procedures. They are also given a year to start including notices of the availability of language assistance in applicable documents. See the table under question 4 of the HHS FAQ for more details.

Implementation
OCR indicates in the preamble of the rule that it may considering issuing additional guidance in the future, such as how to assess whether employees meet the requirements to be bilingual, clearer definitions of what it looks like to provide “meaningful access” to people with LEP, and standards for using machine translations. It also states that the final rule does not apply to health activities by other agencies, leaving a gap that may be filled by action by agencies that implicate health care like the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, and Veterans Administration.

We will now look to the administration for a robust implementation of these important new requirements. There will be consequences for health equity if individuals are unaware of their rights or if health care entities fail to comply with them. No one should face barriers to accessing health care because of their language and every person should understand their right to language access.

USCIS Fee Schedule Changes Expected to Go Into Effect April 1st

USCIS Fee Schedule Changes Expected to Go Into Effect April 1st

By Talia Horrow and Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec 

THE TORCH: CONTENTS
March 25, 2024

On January 31, 2024, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the updated U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Fee Schedule. This final rule published in the Federal Register aimed to adjust certain benefit request fees and establish exemptions for specific humanitarian categories. Additionally, DHS responded to public comments offered to the USCIS fee schedule proposal released in January 2023.

Amidst many other members of the public, NILC filed a public comment in response to the January 2023 fee schedule proposal by USCIS but focused on how the proposed changes would affect low-income immigrants, particularly those without lawful immigration status. NILC’s public comment made the following requests: (1) Reduce the cost of applying for or filing for relief for low-income immigrants; (2) Clarify when biometric fees are warranted; (3) Reconsider fee increases for Form I-765 applicants; (4) Reconsider fee increase for family sponsorship; (5) Provide opportunity for more fee exemptions and waivers while expanding the already existing exemptions for U-visa applicants; (6) Allow individual determinations for fee waivers; and (7) Clarify communication regarding payment changes before they go into effect. Thankfully USCIS adopted several of these recommendations.

Five things to know about the rule:

  1. The new fees are expected to go into effect April 1, 2024. Applications and petitions postmarked on or after April 1, 2024, must include the new fees or USCIS will not accept them. Here is the link to the USCIS fee calculator: https://www.uscis.gov/feecalculator
  2. There will be a $50 discount if you apply online. The final rule offers a $50 discount for certain forms filed online with the intent of incentivizing online filing. That said, USCIS continues to permit paper filings in order to address the concern of accessibility for low-income immigrants with limited access to a computer and/or the internet to file for relief online.
  3. The fee to request work authorization is going up. DHS explained that the Form I-765 fee increased, but by less than the originally proposed amount in the proposed rule. Form I-765 currently has a filing fee of $410, which will increases in USCIS’s final rule to $470 when filed online or $520 when filed on paper. For example, the total cost associated with requesting DACA is going up as a result.
  4. Fee exemptions and fee waivers are available for certain forms. USCIS expanded fee exemptions for various processes including U-visa, T-visa, VAWA, SIJs applications. Additionally, there’s a fee reduction provided for naturalization allowing for payment of half of the regular Form N-400 fee for an applicant with household income at or below 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) (previously set at 200%). USCIS may grant a fee waiver due to inability to pay or receiving a means tested benefit but added that a means tested benefit to a child can be considered to show parent’s inability to pay. As for individual determinations (e.g. not tied to filing a specific Form), DHS responded by stating that the Director of USCIS can provide exemptions from or waive any fee for a case or specific class of cases if the director determines the action to be in the public interest and the action is consistent with other applicable law.
  5. Check the USCIS website before filing. USCIS conducts a review every two years of their fees and in the final rule USCIS reserves the right to raise fees due to inflation so we could see additional fee changes before their next review. However, any changes or specifications such as what form edition date to submit, will be on their website. The final rule provides for a 30 day advance public notification requirement before a payment method changes. To avoid delays caused by rejected forms or payments, check the USCIS website before filing.

For more information on the fee rule itself, please see USCIS’s Frequently Asked Questions on the USCIS Fee Rule.

For more information on the effects of the fee rule, please see ILRC’s New USCIS Fee Rule: An Update on USCIS Filing Fees and AILA’s Featured Issue: USCIS Final Rule Adjusting Its Fee Schedule.

Bipartisan Language Access Developments in Congress Pave the Way for Change

Bipartisan Language Access Developments in Congress Pave the Way for Change

By Ben D’Avanzo

THE TORCH: CONTENTS
November 6, 2023

In August, NILC documented the dire need to address health disparities through our report, Expanding Health Care Access for Individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). In the past month, two bipartisan bills have been introduced in Congress aligned with the report’s proposed policy solutions. These bills, along with other developments in Congress, demonstrate the potential for real progress on this important issue.

Most recently, Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA), along with three House Republicans and nine Democrats, introduced the Supporting Patient Education and Knowledge (SPEAK) Act of 2023. This legislation, supported by an array of health consumer and industry organizations, including the American Medical Association and Healthcare Leadership Council, would tackle the issue of disparities in telehealth access for people with LEP. For example, a recent secret shopper study found that English speakers in California were significantly more likely to be able to obtain a telehealth appointment than Spanish speakers. The SPEAK Act would bring together stakeholders in a federal task force to identify the barriers and solutions to such disparities.

In September, Reps. Young Kim (R-CA) and Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the Health Communication Access and Resources for Everyone (Health CARE) Act. Similarly supported by health care industry and consumer groups, this bill would establish a universal symbol to convey the availability of language services in print, web, and medical office settings. It builds on funding Congress allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services for Fiscal Year 2023 for the concept of a language access symbol, akin to Australia’s National Interpreter Symbol.

These new bills build on additional work in Congress to address language access and health. In 2021, Congress unanimously passed Rep. Young Kim and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-NY) legislation to require the Department of Veterans Affairs to translate its fact sheets into twelve languages. More recently, House health committees unveiled bipartisan legislation to improve health care price transparency, including provisions to require health care entities to make their prices available to people with LEP.

Combined with the Biden Administration’s renewed commitments to language access, along with the heightened public awareness of these disparities thanks to systemic failures during the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has a rare opportunity to advance concrete and widely supported policies in this area. Congress should act now to improve access to health care for people with LEP. Waiting will only further disparities, hurting immigrant families and communities of color through needless systemic failures.

FirstGEN 2023 Fellows Reflect on Their Experiences this Summer

FirstGEN 2023 Fellows Reflect on Their Experiences this Summer

THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Alejandra Caballero Pinedo, Andy Flores, and Kathleen Hoang

August 15, 2023

The FirstGEN Fellows Program connects first generation college students with legal organizations, including the National Immigration Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Throughout ten weeks in a paid summer internship, we gained firsthand experience in social justice careers, while developing our own personal professional capacity through weekly seminars, discussions, and mentorship. Continue reading to find out more about this year’s fellows and their summer!

Alejandra Caballero Pinedo, rising senior at Trinity University:

As a FirstGEN fellow working with the National Immigration Law Center, I have greatly benefited from being immersed in a space where I constantly learn about the interactive dynamic of litigation, policy, and advocacy. At NILC, I supported the policy and advocacy department by adding to the organization’s institutional knowledge through research, crafting a factsheet for bipartisan congressional review on a bill relating to telehealth language access, taking notes on congressional hearings, and assisting in the review of the DACA campaign strategy. Through it all, one of the greatest gifts I have gained from this program is the renewed faith I have found within myself to accomplish the unexpected.

The support from my supervisors and the staff members at NILC has been transformative. I have learned to whole-heartedly believe in the trust that has been placed in me. Additionally, my contributions have been welcomed and celebrated which has led me to feel uplifted as a first-generation college student, fellow, and colleague. Conversations in DACA team meetings and FirstGEN fellows weekly meetings have been instrumental to my intellectual growth and in developing myself in a professional sphere. Not only was this summer internship empowering and uplifting, but my knowledge base on career paths significantly expanded. I was able to discover different potential career paths in the social justice, policy, advocacy, and legal fields.

Nearing the end of this fellowship, I am beyond proud of my intellectual, personal, and professional growth. Additionally, I embrace the crucial role that NILC and the FirstGEN Fellows program have played in planting these seeds of growth within me.

Andy Flores, recent graduate from University of Mississippi:

As a FirstGEN fellow with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law this summer, I developed a rich and intimate understanding of how racial justice advocacy works behind-the-scenes. In my first few weeks, my team entrusted me with facilitating local rallies, shaping our national advocacy strategy, and generating key materials for our Educational Opportunities Project. I was also consistently invited to share my perspective on weighty issues, such as the team’s affirmative action litigation before the Supreme Court. As the weeks progressed, Wednesday meetings with the FirstGEN Fellowship cohort were a grounding opportunity to share in community alongside interns who understood the first-gen experience. It was replenishing. Both personally and professionally, I felt empowered to show up as my full self and make substantive contributions.

This summer also demystified the legal field for me and clarified what my career could look like as a future first-gen lawyer. Too often, it can be difficult to connect with attorneys, understand their day-to-day role, and benefit from their wisdom. As a FirstGEN Fellow, I was consistently surrounded by brilliant and welcoming professionals who were dedicated to public service. I had one-on-one meetings with someone new every week, and every time, I learned something new about myself. I now feel more prepared than ever to apply to law school and pursue a career as a civil rights litigator.

Kathleen Hoang, rising junior at Columbia University:

As a FirstGEN fellow with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, I have not only delved into projects related to radicalized state histories and data disaggregation, but I’ve also had the privilege of meeting amazingly talented staff members who shared their rich educational and career trajectories with me. Through conversations and mentorship, I gained invaluable insights into the professional social justice world and learned how to navigate challenges with resilience and grace. Their encouragement and willingness to invest time in my growth meant the world to me.

I walk away from AAJC inspired, knowing that as long as I have the intention to leave the world a little bit better, my path will unfold before me. The terrifying, infinite possibilities of my career stand before me and yet I feel more ready and excited than ever before to take what I learned at AAJC into my work with human rights.

We are so grateful for this fellowship, all the invaluable skills we gained professionally, and the self-confidence we built through generous mentorship from staff. We encourage everyone to apply to next year’s program and join the FirstGEN Fellowship.

States Need to Improve Language Access for Medicaid Renewals

States Need to Improve Language Access for Medicaid Renewals

THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Laiba Waqas & Ben D’Avanzo 

August 9, 2023

In March 2023, after a three-year pause, states resumed terminating the eligibility of Medicaid recipients. These terminations signaled the restart of eligibility redeterminations, which had been halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollees who face the termination of their eligibility are already up against significant administrative barriers, but people with limited English proficiency (LEP) are more likely to lose Medicaid coverage during this unwinding process even if they remain eligible for Medicaid due to language barriers and ineffective communication. States have an opportunity to remove these barriers and avoid worsening access to in-language explanations and applications so that everyone, regardless of how much money they have, where they were born, or what language they speak, can access the health care they need to thrive.

Under federal civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act states have obligations to ensure that individuals have meaningful access to their federally funded programs, including Medicaid. A recent letter from Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (HHS OCR), emphasized that states must abide by language access requirements during the unwinding to prevent individuals with LEP from losing coverage. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has reminded states that regulations require state Medicaid programs to provide in-language oral interpretation and written translations to people with LEP Given that 89 percent of people with LEP are people of color, failure to provide these protections will exacerbate racial health disparities. To identify trends of how states provide information for obtaining language assistance through call centers and on state Medicaid home pages, we analyzed how people with LEP may try to initiate their Medicaid redetermination. Our analysis of call centers and Medicaid websites across all 50 states uncovered some concerning trends. 

Medicaid Call Centers

We looked at whether state Medicaid call centers provide immediate access to in-language assistance upon connection, and, if so, in which languages. For example, to ensure a call line is accessible, a phone menu should start by asking for the caller’s language preference and may ask them to press a number to indicate a specific language. However, nine states: Arizona, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia failed to offer immediate language options and instead began with long English prompts, making their systems potentially unusable by someone with LEP.

Nineteen states’ phone menus provided prompts for people who speak only English and Spanish, not even offering an “other” option. For the 38 percent in the U.S. with LEP who don’t speak those languages, this obstacle makes it unclear how they are supposed to obtain assistance with their Medicaid renewals.

Only 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, had specific language options on their phone menu beyond English, Spanish and a general “other language” option. However, in some states, these language options were stated in English rather than using the identifying word in the language itself. (“Spanish” instead of “Español”)

State Medicaid Websites

Because people with LEP may first go to their state’s Medicaid website for information on renewals, we looked to see if there was any information on how to access in-language information from those homepages.

Alabama, Alaksa and Idaho all failed to provide any information on how to access language services on their Medicaid home pages or application page. Most other states had an option to translate the website, including the renewal application, into Spanish; however, in 18 states, other languages were only accessible through Google Translate, which is often riddled with grammar and syntax errors that reduce the accuracy of information.

Thirteen states, and DC, had translated resources and informational flyers regarding Medicaid application and free translation services on their website; these translations were available in anywhere from two to fifteen languages. Most states had drop-down menus, identified only in English, from which language services could be accessed if available. Notably, only nine states and DC had taglines or footers that either linked to a translated version of the entire website or opened additional resources and information in that language. While some states may have additional information in-language on portions of their website, they were not clearly accessible from the home page.

Many states have failed to abide by the best practices that HHS OCR has communicated, putting themselves at risk of failing to comply with civil rights and Medicaid enrollment requirements. States must ensure people with LEP can access language assistance to mitigate Medicaid coverage gaps and losses.

Recommended Best Practices for States

From the findings above, many states have a long way to go to ensure that people with LEP can access the tools and information they need to renew Medicaid. Our analysis uncovered some important steps that states can take to improve language access:

Call centers should:

  • Provide unique phone numbers for speakers of different languages, bypassing the challenges of complex phone trees, as California does in 12 languages.
  • Immediately ask callers for their language preferences, using the in-language terminology for the offered languages, as Oregon does for 6 languages.
  • Remove lengthy English prompts prior to asking a customer’s language, as consumers must navigate in Arizona, Hawaii, and Montana.

Websites should:

  • Provide language access options that use professional translation services. The proposed revisions to Section 1557 regulations note that unreviewed machine translations do not count as meaningful access.
  • Place language translation options in a conspicuous location on the website rather than buried within an English drop-down menu. For example, Washington state offers Spanish at the top of the page and taglines in 15 languages at the bottom of the website.

States should:

  • Utilize the language preference data that all Medicaid applications collect to identify and regularly publish demographic trends during the unwinding, as Washington and Oregon do. Without data, we cannot truly know how big the coverage loss disparities will be for people with LEP.

States must provide meaningful language access to ensure that no one else loses their health care because of ineffective and inaccessible communications. CMS and OCR should provide oversight and consider pausing renewals in states that do not. No one should be denied access to health care coverage because of the language they speak.


Laiba Waqas is a NILC Summer 2023 Legal Intern.

What to Know About the Biden Administration’s Proposed Restoration of DACA Recipients’ Access to Affordable Care Act Programs

What to Know About the Biden Administration’s Proposed Restoration of DACA Recipients’ Access to Affordable Care Act Programs

THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Gabrielle Lessard

May 5, 2023

The senseless exclusion of immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) from Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage is finally ending. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has published a proposed rule that would modify the definition of “lawfully present” used to determine eligibility for ACA health plans and certain other health care programs.

The proposed regulations would make DACA recipients eligible:

  • To purchase plans, and receive income-based subsidies, on healthcare exchanges like Healthcare.gov,
  • To participate in Medicaid or CHIP coverage for children and/or people who are pregnant in many states, and
  • To enroll in Basic Health Programs in certain states (currently New York and Minnesota).

Colin Anderson Productions

Currently, people who have deferred action under categories other than DACA are considered lawfully present for purposes of the three programs listed above. In publishing the proposed regulations CMS has recognized that it is not required to treat DACA recipients differently than other recipients of deferred action, and that doing so is contrary to the purposes of DACA and the ACA.

The proposed regulations also incorporate important clarifications and technical corrections. The proposal clarifies that people who received special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) are eligible for the three programs listed above. It also eliminates a 180-day waiting period for children under age 14 applying for certain kinds of humanitarian relief, including asylum.

The proposed regulations incorporate a November 1, 2023 effective date, which coincides with the beginning of the ACA open enrollment period. There is no real justification for making DACA recipients continue to wait for access to affordable coverage. As people newly eligible for ACA coverage, DACA recipients would be eligible for a ‘special enrollment period’ that enabled them to enroll outside of open enrollment.

CMS is accepting public comments on the proposed regulation through June 23, 2023. Check back on NILC’s website for additional news and resources about the regulation as it moves forward.


Gabrielle Lessard is a Senior Policy Attorney at NILC.

End of Pandemic Medicaid Protections May Leave Many Immigrants without Health Insurance

End of Pandemic Medicaid Protections May Leave Many Immigrants without Health Insurance

THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Ben D’Avanzo

February 7, 2023

Millions of people who receive health care through Medicaid will have their eligibility reviewed for the first time in over three years. Medicaid eligibility review, or ”redetermination” normally takes place at least once a year but was suspended due to policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The redetermination process will disproportionately put immigrants and their families at risk of losing health coverage unnecessarily, because they face unique barriers to maintaining coverage. These barriers include the additional application steps required to verify their immigration status, challenges with identity verification, and household composition issues such as living in multi-generational families. Policymakers must go beyond current practices to ensure that immigrants retain health coverage through Medicaid or make a successful transition to the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. Here’s how:

Simplify Enrollment as Much as Possible – Determining Medicaid eligibility is complicated for both applicants and eligibility workers. This complexity is compounded for immigrants, who are required to demonstrate satisfactory immigration status and often encounter challenges in verifying their identities. Many immigrants, such as those working in seasonal or unstable jobs, also have difficulty verifying their income. States are required to redetermine applications without the recipients’ involvement, when possible, known as “ex parte” redetermination. States should seek out additional sources of information they can use in making ex parte redeterminations, such as information held by other state benefits agencies. States should accept applicants’ self-declaration of income that they can verify independently, such as income, and allow for reasonable variances.

Adamkaz

Ensure Medicaid Eligibility Workers are Trained on Immigrant Eligibility – The rules that govern immigrants’ eligibility for Medicaid are complicated, with variations by immigration status, time spent in the U.S., age, pregnancy and beyond. There have also been recent changes, for example, people living in the U.S. under the Compact of Free Association became eligible since Medicaid redeterminations were last conducted, as well as some Afghan and Ukrainian parolees. Medicaid agencies should ensure their staff receive regular training on immigrant eligibility to ensure no one is improperly denied coverage.

Conduct Outreach and Enrollment in Multiple Languages – Current Medicaid practices consistently fail people with limited English proficiency (LEP), despite the prevalence of LEP individuals in Medicaid households being more than double those of non-Medicaid households. For example, many states provide applications in English only, and very few translate their applications into languages beyond Spanish. State Medicaid agencies, which are responsible for ensuring meaningful access to their programs for people with LEP under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, should, to the extent possible, communicate with applicants in their preferred language at all points in the process.

Without in-language applications, outreach and notices, LEP households may fail to realize they need to update their information with their Medicaid agency before losing coverage. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) suggests that states review their language access plans and review the availability of interpreters, among other steps, and currently offers toolkits in Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. California offers its applications in 12 languages. While Virginia only offers applications in Spanish, the state has programmed its systems to translate notices into several other languages. Given that many people with LEP prefer oral interactions, states may also want to follow the example of Oregon, which offers specific phone lines for different languages. State Medicaid agencies should use the opportunity of the unwinding to take the next available step towards greater language access in their application process.

Utilize All Forms of Communication – The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 requires states to attempt to reach beneficiaries at risk of disenrollment with more than one method of communication. States should consider going beyond this requirement by attempting to contact people using all available forms of communication. For immigrants, particularly migrant workers or humanitarian immigrants who may move from where they were originally resettled to be closer to family, geographic movement is common. As a result, mailing addresses and phone numbers may have become outdated since their last redetermination over three years ago.

Nonetheless, postal mail remains an important form of communication and the way in which beneficiaries expect to receive notices from state agencies. States should act affirmatively to obtain change of address information through postal databases to supplement beneficiary updates.

Utilize and Fund Trusted Community Institutions – In addition to the challenges described above, agency communication with immigrant households is often hampered by their distrust of government. Concerns about interacting with government agencies or the consequences of receiving benefits may cause recipients to discard or ignore government communications. Agencies should proactively convene community-based organizations, schools, health clinics, non-English language media, and influencers on social media apps, like WhatsApp and WeChat, that are commonly used by immigrants. For example, California has created a Coverage Ambassadors campaign. Agencies should also recognize that community-based organizations are often under-resourced and should provide financial support for their participation in the redetermination process.

Assure Immigrants About Their Protections and Privacy – Some immigrants may be concerned about sharing the personal information needed to redetermine their eligibility, particularly if they have family or household members who are concerned about immigration enforcement. The time gap since redeterminations last occurred may have led to eroded trust. Families may act with suspicion or uncertainty when presented with the need to respond to a government notice. Medicaid agencies and other entities engaged in outreach can adopt trusting community approaches and welcoming policies to help educate applicants about how their data will and will not be used. They should also proactively address immigration status–related concerns like public charge.

Overall, states will have up to a little over a year to conduct these redeterminations. Without careful planning, including proactive, intentional steps like those outlined above and in more detail through the Protecting Immigrant Families network toolkit, more immigrant families will lose health coverage. Instead of defaulting to usual practices, policymakers should view this restart of renewals as an opportunity to make improvements to their Medicaid outreach and enrollment practices to promote health equity. Otherwise, parents may arrive at their children’s pediatrician’s appointments only to find, through no fault of their own, they are now uninsured.


Ben D’Avanzo is a Senior Health Policy Analyst at NILC.

Biden’s Reported Plans to Detain Haitian Asylum Seekers at Guantanamo Perpetuates History of Anti-Black Racism in U.S. Immigration Policy

Biden’s Reported Plans to Detain Haitian Asylum Seekers at Guantanamo Perpetuates History of Anti-Black Racism in U.S. Immigration Policy

THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Chiraayu Gosrani

February 1, 2023

Crises around the world—including in Ukraine and Haiti—have sparked increased flows of migrants seeking safety in the United States. While the Biden administration has welcomed Ukrainian refugees with open arms, senior officials are hastily preparing to send Haitian asylum seekers to Guantanamo—a site notoriously associated with war crimes and torture in the post-9/11 era and one historically associated with U.S. cruelty towards Haitians. Designed to evade international human rights law, this outrageous proposal harkens back to the 1990s, when Guantanamo was used as a makeshift prison camp where thousands of Haitians were detained in deplorable conditions and hundreds with H.I.V. were held indefinitely. The latest chapter in a long history of anti-Black racism in U.S. immigration policy and U.S. imperialism toward Haiti, the Biden administration’s Guantanamo proposal represents more of the same cruelty that has defined U.S. mistreatment of Haitians for decades.

The humanitarian crisis in Haiti is dire. Following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021, Haitians have experienced prolonged political crises and escalating violence. This instability has resulted in catastrophic food and water shortages, a significant cholera outbreak, and fuel scarcity that has shut down the economy and forced many health care centers to close. Armed groups have become de facto authorities in large parts of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Civilians are being threatened, sexually assaulted, kidnapped, and killed. These conditions have forced Haitians to flee, often resorting to treacherous, fatal routes by boat or by foot through thousands of miles of jungles, rivers, and deserts to the U.S.- Mexico border.

Joe Raedle

Citing the deteriorating conditions in Haiti and spurred by mounting criticism from advocates, the Biden administration announced on December 5, 2022, the extension and redesignation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti. The TPS program temporarily protects Haitians in the U.S. from deportation and allows Haitian immigrants to continue living and working in the U.S. The redesignation allows Haitians who arrived in the United States before November 6, 2022, to apply for the program, whereas previously only those who had arrived before July 29, 2021, were eligible. The administration also pushed back the expiration date from February 4, 2023, to August 3, 2024. Additionally, in January, President Biden announced a new plan to offer humanitarian parole to up to 30,000 Haitian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants per month. The administration touted these policies as part of “immediate steps to provide safe, orderly, humane pathways” for migration.

But the administration is simultaneously doubling down on detention and deportation to punish, rather than protect, Haitians seeking safety. Indeed, the TPS announcement came with an explicit warning that Haitians who make the journey to the U.S. in the coming months will be turned away and returned to danger, and the parole program announcement called for an expansion of expulsions at the border under Title 42—a public health measure that has been co-opted to strip migrants of the right to asylum and return them to perilous conditions in Mexico without due process. In addition, the parole program is prohibitive to most people fleeing Haiti in desperation. It requires applicants to have a U.S.-based fiscal sponsor, a passport, and a smart phone. Asylum seekers who migrate outside of the parole process are presumed to be ineligible for asylum. This asylum ban flouts international and U.S. law which requires migrants be given a fair opportunity to seek asylum.

The administration is already acting upon this threat: it has mobilized the U.S. Coast Guard to intercept more Haitian migrants at sea and deport them back to Haiti, where they face indefinite detention in Haiti’s National Penitentiary. The administration is also weighing plans to open new U.S. government-run detention sites in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos, or to expand capacity at the prison camp center at Guantanamo Bay.

The present humanitarian crisis in Haiti, as well as the administration’s punitive proposals, are products of the same history of militarism and violence toward Haiti and its people.

U.S. policies dating back to Haitian independence are largely responsible for the current state of poverty and political instability in Haiti. Following the Haitian Revolution, an uprising of self-liberated African people, the U.S. refused to diplomatically recognize the free Black nation on the wishes of southern, white plantation owners. This ensured that France could force Haiti to pay for the “property” it lost as a result of independence — that is, the value of enslaved people and their labor. Haiti was forced to pay down that debt for centuries, mostly to U.S. creditors.

The U.S. began exerting its own imperial might over Haiti at the turn of the 20th century. In 1915, the U.S. invaded Haiti and occupied it for nineteen years. During the occupation, the U.S. forced a restructuring of the Haitian economy in favor of U.S. business interests. Even after its occupation ended in 1934, the U.S. continued to intervene in Haiti by propping up the repressive dictatorships of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. During the Duvaliers’ reign of terror from 1957 to 1986, approximately 200,000 Haitians were forced to flee the country and migrate to the U.S.

The U.S. government’s response to the plight of Haitians fleeing the Duvalier regime was openly discriminatory while Cubans arriving by boat were accepted and processed for entry, Haitian ‘boat people’ were regularly detained and sent back to their home country to face persecution, torture, and death. The Reagan administration continued the disparate treatment of Haitians by wrongly classifying Haitian asylum seekers as “economic migrants,” thus making it nearly impossible for them to secure humanitarian protections. The Reagan administration simultaneously introduced policies that required the detention of all Haitian migrants without the possibility of release while their immigration cases were pending. To fend off mounting accusations of discrimination, the government eventually applied the mandatory detention policy to all immigrants, not just Haitians, and thus laid the groundwork for the largest immigration detention system in the worldone currently responsible for detaining over 50,000 people daily. This system, rooted in white supremacy and built to criminalize immigrants, disproportionately harms, buses, and vilifies Black immigrants.

The Biden administration’s current Guantanamo proposal draws upon and perpetuates the legacy of anti-Black racism in U.S. policy toward Haiti. This reality becomes even clearer when comparing the disparate treatment of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict with Russia and Haitians fleeing crises of similar proportions. While extending safe pathways to migration for Ukrainians, such as through the United for Ukraine parole program and the high volume of Title 42 exemptions granted to Ukrainians at the U.S.-Mexico border, the administration has practically shut the door on Haitians. In late 2021, just as the government prepared to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, heavily armed border agents on horseback with whips met Haitians in Del Rio, Texas.

Dozens of civil society organizations, led by the Haitian Bridge Alliance and including the National Immigration Law Center, have urged the administration to immediately reject plans to hold Haitian asylum seekers at Guantanamo or other offshore detention sites. To uphold its commitment to fostering racial equity and a humane immigration system, the administration must chart a new course that provides permanent protections for Haitians living in the United States and creates meaningful and safe pathways to protection for Haitian migrants fleeing their homes, without doubling down on detention and punishment. Only then can the administration begin to remedy the legacy of anti-Black racism that has pervaded U.S. mistreatment of Haitians for more than a century.


Chiraayu Gosrani is a Legal Fellow and member of the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI) at NILC.

Two Years After Deadly Nitrogen Leak at Georgia Poultry Plant, A Big Step Forward to Protect Immigrant Workers Reporting Labor Abuses

Two Years After Deadly Nitrogen Leak at Georgia Poultry Plant, A Big Step Forward to Protect Immigrant Workers Reporting Labor Abuses

THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Shelly Anand, Elizabeth Zambrana, and Alessandra Stevens (Sur Legal Collaborative) and Michelle Lapointe (NILC) 

January 27, 2023

Two years ago, on January 28, 2021, Gainesville, Georgia was the site of a tragic and entirely preventable liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry plant, which killed six workers. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, traumatized immigrant workers hesitated to come forward to report what they had witnessed because they feared employer retaliation, including a call to local police or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and being put into and possible deportation proceedings. Their fears were not unfounded. Gainesville is in Hall County, which has a “287(g)” agreement with ICE, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as immigration agents.

The Gainesville poultry tragedy did not take place in a vacuum: immigrant workers experience 300 more workplace fatalities and 61,000 more workplace injuries per year, 37% receive less than minimum wage, and 76% experience wage theft. One national study found that undocumented workers experience minimum wage violations at nearly twice the rate of their U.S.-born counterparts in the same jobs. In 2020, immigrant workers made up 65% of worker deaths and in 2021, 727 immigrant workers from Latin America were killed on the job. These disparities can be directly tied to workers’ fear of reporting labor violations – workers who are unwilling to complain about safety violations on the job due to immigration enforcement concerns actually face greater job hazards and higher workplace injury rates. Workers who face firing, blacklisting, or deportation are more hesitant than others to take the risk of advocating for their workplace rights. Abusive employers routinely use threats of calls to ICE and police, implying possible deportation, to prevent immigrant workers from asserting their rights. These threats in turn intimidate immigrant workers to remain silent about these abuses due to fear of retaliation, being blacklisted in the local community, or the risk of deportation.

Photo by VCG / Contributor

On January 13, 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced new guidance establishing a process for workers in labor disputes to apply for temporary protection from deportation. This guidance is a critical step to ensuring that immigrant workers like the Gainesville poultry workers can report serious labor violations without fear of adverse immigration consequences. Immigrant workers’ ability to speak up about workplace abuses is critical to holding exploitative employers accountable for their failure to follow our country’s labor laws and improves working conditions for all workers.

The new DHS guidance establishes a streamlined process for workers in labor disputes to apply for deferred action–a well-established form of prosecutorial discretion which provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization. Work authorization is critical to affording immigrant whistleblowers protection against retaliation in violation of our country’s labor laws. This protection bolsters the ability of agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and state and local labor agencies, to investigate allegations of workplace abuse and enforce workplace protections, including the right to a safe and healthy workplace free of discrimination and the right to be paid fairly for all hours worked. A letter of support from one of these agencies is an essential component of any request for deferred action under the new policy, and deferred action requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

DHS’ announcement follows years of organizing by immigrant workers and advocates across the country, including in Georgia and other parts of the Deep South. Both Sur Legal Collaborative and the National Immigrant Law Center (NILC) were a part of a rapid response coalition led by the poultry workers and local grassroots organizers in Gainesville in the wake of the nitrogen leak. Despite their fear of retaliation, workers bravely shared details with advocates, attorneys, and federal investigators about what transpired in the days leading up to the nitrogen leak and on the horrific day of the leak itself.

Because these workers spoke up, OSHA issued over $1 million in penalties against the four companies responsible for the nitrogen leak, the highest penalties possible under applicable statutes. On hearing this news, one worker said: “It is good that justice will be done for the death of our comrades… From now on, we are not going to remain silent, anything that we think is wrong, we will report.”

Knowing that these brave workers were coming forward during the OSHA investigation of the nitrogen leak, despite their fears of retaliation, our coalition joined the national efforts to secure some form of protection for these workers against retaliation. After months of advocacy, workers in Gainesville were among the first in the country under this administration to receive deferred action.

DHS’s announcement supporting labor agencies and workers in holding abusive employers accountable is an important step. NILC and Sur Legal Collaborative, and our coalition partners across the country, will continue to advocate for DHS, DOL, and the Biden administration to do more for immigrant workers. Specifically, the DOL should  delegate U and T visa certifying authority to OSHA so that the agency can provide certifications to immigrant workers who are victims of trafficking and crimes in the workplace to support workers as they pursue more permanent immigration relief. DHS should ensure that workers who receive deferred action can renew that protection and should consider requests for prosecutorial discretion from individuals involved in civil rights disputes and private litigation. And DHS should end 287(g) agreements like the one in Hall County, which create a climate of fear in immigrant communities. Regardless, none of these actions is sufficient; Congress still needs to create a path for more permanent protection for these workers, including a process for them to become citizens.