With the rise of the immigration crisis, there are many issues that have cropped up that might not have been a problem before. Considering whether to allow illegal immigrants to apply for state benefits is a conversation that would have been a non-starter ten years ago, but with the massive wave of migrants and the border, it’s a discussion that has now started to crop up.

Virginia Democrats Advancing Benefits for Immigrants

In the state of Virginia, Senate Democrats advanced the conversation by recently voting in favor of a bill called the “Cover All Kids Act.” The bill would allow for illegal immigrants at a certain percentage of the poverty line to apply for state benefits, including Medicaid.

Source: X/SenatorHashmi

The bill was introduced by Virginia State Senator Ghazala Hashmi. When defending the bill, she explained that, “Healthcare is a human right, and we know how vital access to care is to a child’s health, well-being, and development.”

Federal Law Banning Application

Illegal immigrants have, for a long time, been excluded from the ability to apply for state and federal benefits such as Medicaid. An adjustment to Federal law in 1996 clarified which immigrants were able to qualify for benefits, making the requirements much stricter than they had been before.

Source: X/SenatorHashmi

Since then, illegal immigrants, in almost all circumstances, have been excluded from the ability to apply for benefits. In some ways, this makes sense; many benefits require either a Green Card ID or a social security number to apply, and illegal immigrants don’t have either of these numbers.

States Considering Benefits Expansion

As the immigration crisis has ramped up in the last few years, though, Virginia is not the only state who has reconsidered the eligibility guidelines for immigrants to apply for state benefits. Recently, California passed a law that approved a massive expansion of their state medicaid program, Medi-Cal.

Source: Wikimedia/Office of the Governor of California

The expansion of the program, which went into effect in January of this year, immediately made eligible all undocumented immigrants under a certain income level. This is the first state to fund comprehensive medical care for immigrants, though Oregon has been making strides towards that goal, removing their age restrictions for undocumented immigrants to apply for low-income benefits last July.

Opponents to Immigrants Receiving Benefits

As many on the left have proposed measures that expand state and federal benefits to immigrants, illegal and otherwise, opponents have come strongly out of the woodwork to oppose any discussion or implementation of these issues.

Source: Wikimedia/Doug Geisler from Portland

The argument often used is that expanding access to state and federal benefits for illegal immigrants would encourage illegal immigration, and put even more pressure on a heavily burdened system.

Words from Virginia Republicans

This is the exact argument that opponents have used when discussing the new bill passed out of the Virginia state legislature. State Senator Glen Sturtevant said, “Because of President Biden’s open-border policy, every state is now a border state – including Virginia.”

Source: Wikimedia/Silver Persinger

He went on, “Virginia Democrats in the General Assembly are making every effort to undermine legal immigration and incentivize illegal immigration into the commonwealth.” He finished, “This session, Virginia Democrats have introduced bills that directly incentivize illegal immigration.”

The Provisions of the Bill

Specifically, the provisions of the bill would extend state Medicaid covered to uninsured illegal immigrants at 205% of the federal poverty level. Proponents of the bill argue that positive health outcomes is not only a human right, but also burdens the American medical system less than illegal immigrants with major, preventable health issues.

Source: Wikimedia/Trevor Stone from Lakewood

Hashmi, in a statement, emphasized, “With this legislation, we are making a commitment to Virginia’s families that all children will have access to essential health care.” This statement is made in the wake of a slew of bills that have been passed across the country that reduce access to healthcare for immigrants and legal Americans alike.

More Republican Backlash

Republicans in Virginia firmly disagreed with the sentiment of the statement. Sturtevant pointed out other policies that Democrats have been attempting to pass in Virginia that would benefit illegal immigrants, pushing his anti-immigration agenda.

Source: X/GlenSturtevant

“They want to grant illegal immigrants driver’s licenses that are valid for up to eight years. Now, they’re also working to divert limited resources from low-income Virginians to pay for healthcare for illegal immigrants. That will cost Virginia taxpayers more than $100 million just in this decade.”

Firm Republican Opposition

The Republican state senator went on to point out the issues that have been seen in other states across the country regarding the immigration crisis. “We have seen the mess that sanctuary city policies have created in places like Chicago and New York,” he said.

Source: Wikimedia/Tomas Castelazo

He went on, “These bad policies jeopardize not just Virginia’s healthcare system but create perverse incentives that illegal immigrants will see as a green light to travel to Virginia for free schooling, driver’s licenses, and now, free healthcare.”

An Issue Ahead of the Election

The immigration crisis is shaping up to be an incredibly important issue ahead of the 2024 election. Migrants from Central America as well as other war-ravaged countries around the world are straining the immigration system, and politicians are making their stances clear on the issue, one way or the other.

Source: Wikimedia/The White House

Whether migrants can apply for state aid ultimately won’t be a breaking issue for voters who have already decided who they’re going to vote for. It’s a good talking point for both Democrats and Republicans, though, and the coming months will only see more discourse surrounding politics and immigration.