Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Health care expansion for DACA recipients brings expected relief, but concerns remain

Nedy Velazquez was brought to the United States from Mexico by her parents when she was 7-years-old. She was raised in Escondido and said she’s proud of her San Diego roots.

“You know, I’m a San Diegan, West Coast, represent all the way,” she said laughing.

A childhood spleen surgery weakened her immune system. Uninsured for most of her life, that vulnerability fueled her anxiety, especially during the pandemic.


“It was a really scary time, cause I yeah, I didn't have access to health care. And I thought, if I get COVID, I can't pay for emergency visits to the ER,” Velazquez said.

Velazquez is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act recipient, also known as DACA, and has been advocating for immigrant health care expansion for years. She said the expansion of the Affordable Care Act to include DACA recipients — announced by the White House on Friday — is long overdue.

Starting Nov. 1, the estimated 8,500 DACA recipients who live in San Diego County will be eligible to apply for coverage.

“I know that a lot of people are gonna feel so much relief,” Velazquez said. 

Many DACA recipients, like Velazquez, get health insurance through their jobs. A recent survey by the National Immigration Law Center found 27% report being uninsured.


Critics call the Biden Administration rule an unfair cost burden. And a possible strategic move to boost President Biden's support, particularly among Hispanic voters, whose approval has declined since he took office.

U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, (D-San Diego) said it doesn't make sense to have an unhealthy population that's uninsured

”The bigger the group, the better, especially young people like this, I mean, it actually brings down the cost for everybody,” he said.

DACA recipients usually delay preventive or routine medical care, he said, leading to unnecessary costs later.

“So many of them are worried that they could have some catastrophic issue that could wipe out the financing that they've built up,” he said.

Tom Wong, founding director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego, called the rule progress and said the next step is education.

“Over half of uninsured DACA recipients believe they are not eligible for health insurance because of their immigration status,” Wong said. “The heavy lifting now centers on communicating eligibility … amidst continued legal uncertainty surrounding DACA.”

Although an estimated 100,000 uninsured DACA recipients are expected to enroll in the Affordable Care Act in November, Velazquez is among advocates who think some may hesitate to apply out of fear.

“We're worried that that would impact the potential for us to be able to apply for citizenship when that time comes,” she said. "It’s like you try not to get any sort of help, because that might reflect negatively on your application.”