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Bill restricting public aid for undocumented immigrants fails in Idaho House committee

By Mia Maldonado Idaho Capital Sun

A bill to prevent undocumented immigrants in Idaho from accessing publicly-funded assistance is not moving forward in the Idaho Legislature.

Reps. Jordan Redman, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Josh Tanner, R-Eagle, presented House Bill 615 to the House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday morning, emphasizing that its purpose was to make Idaho less attractive to undocumented immigrants by removing access to public benefits.

“In my opinion, we should not be using taxpayer dollars to serve folks that should not be here in the first place,” Redman said. “We need to use those resources for the citizens that are here legally if you need some help from the state.”

But Democrats and Republicans shared concerns that the bill would particularly hurt undocumented mothers and children seeking vaccines, prenatal care and food assistance.

The committee voted in a 7-5 vote to hold the bill in the committee, blocking the bill from moving forward to the House floor for a vote.

Lawful presence not required to access some assistance

Under Idaho law, to receive public assistance, state agencies are required to verify the lawful presence of adults applying for state, local and federal public benefits. However, there are eight exceptions for which lawful presence is not required by Idaho law:

• Purposes which lawful presence is not required by law.

• For those seeking health care services in emergencies, that are not organ transplants.

• Short-term, non cash in-kind emergency disaster relief.

• Public health assistance for immunizations, and treatment of symptoms of communicable diseases

• Programs and services such as short-term shelters, soup kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention.

• Prenatal care.

• Postnatal care.

• Food assistance for a dependent younger than 18 years old.

House Bill 615 aimed to remove six of those exemptions, including removing access to public assistance for purposes which lawful presence is not required by law, for immunizations, short-term shelters, prenatal care, postnatal care, and food assistance for a family with children.

Democrats and Republicans opposed bill

Kimberly Republican Rep. Chenele Dixon made the motion to hold the bill in committee. While she favors border security and entering the U.S. legally, she said she had several concerns about the bill.

“We have talked about in other bills and other discussions on the floor that people are coming across the border with diseases, and now we’re saying we don’t want to help solve that problem for the general public by not allowing people who may come here to have immunizations,” Dixon said.

Another concern she said is that the bill would remove public assistance for prenatal care.

“If someone comes here, their preborn child, who will ultimately be a citizen here – so maybe we call them a preborn citizen – should be able to get health care,” Dixon said. “They will cost more to us if they do not get the necessary care.”

Democrats agreed with Dixon, including Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. Rubel said the bill would have a “detrimental effect” on the health of U.S. citizens, because it would prevent undocumented people from getting public assistance for treatment for communicable diseases.

“The fact is, we do have a very large undocumented labor force in Idaho,” Rubel said. “They’re not going to go away because of this bill, and having something like typhoid or tuberculosis tearing through that workforce with no ability to seek treatment through all of the treatment mechanisms that we have set up through public health I think will only bring health disaster upon the entire population documented and undocumented alike.”

Rep. Jaime Hansen, D-Boise, the appointed substitute for Rep. Sue Chew, also said that the bill is xenophobic, and it would hurt undocumented women and children who use federally-funded food assistance.

Among those who spoke in opposition included representatives from the ACLU of Idaho, and PODER of Idaho. Dexton Lake, a representative from the Idaho Farm Bureau, was the only person to testify in favor of the bill.

Criseida Guadalupe Cuevas Cuevas, an Idaho resident, testified her concerns that the bill would disproportionately hurt the immunocompromised undocumented community.

As an immigrant who moved to Idaho when she was 7, Cuevas said she only sought medical care unless absolutely necessary while growing up.

“This bill is just racist and xenophobic,” Cuevas said.