California’s Alameda County, located near the Bay Area, took an unprecedented step June 3 as its voters approved legislation to fund healthcare for undocumented immigrants. This measure, targeted at individuals whose citizenship status excludes them from state or federal healthcare coverage, is expected to raise over $100 million annually to fund clinics for immigrants.
“Our elected officials, our constituents and our health authority see healthcare as a basic human right, to be provided regardless of immigration status,” Alex Briscoe told Reuters. Briscoe currently serves as director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, which services Oakland east of San Francisco and Berkeley.
The measure passed in a landslide with the final margin coming in at nearly 3 to 1. This result is somewhat unsurprising, as healthcare for undocumented immigrants has been a continually pressing issue in California as that demographic grows. Reuters estimates that 2.6 million individuals (roughly 7 percent of the state populace) in California are undocumented immigrants. In the past year, emergency room and other hospital-related expenses for these individuals cost the state over $600 million.
This legislation is not, however, a permanent solution to the issue of funding healthcare for undocumented immigrants. The measure calls for a tax increase of 0.5 percent beginning in 2019 and extending through 2034. Ideally, public officials will be able to use those 15 years to enact a more permanent and thorough solution.
While the passing of this bill does denote a landmark moment in the conversation regarding undocumented immigrants residing in America, it’s worth noting that it will not come close to resolving the issue in California. As evidenced by the May 23 stalling of a California State Senate measure to include immigrants in state healthcare programs, intervention in these matters may need to be delivered from a higher level. As the population of immigrants grows, proponents of immigrant rights will undoubtedly continue to pressure Congress for more comprehensive immigration reform.