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House Passes Bill on Indigent Health Care for Legal Immigrants

A contentious measure that would allow Texas counties to consider the income of a legal immigrant’s sponsor when determining if the immigrant is eligible for indigent health care passed the state House today.

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A contentious measure that would allow Texas counties to consider the income of a legal immigrant’s sponsor when determining if the immigrant is eligible for indigent health care passed the House today.

Senate Bill 420, by state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, also would allow counties to take into consideration the income of a sponsor’s spouse when the applicant requested indigent care. A sponsored alien is one who is admitted into the country legally after an affidavit of support is submitted in his or her favor by a U.S. citizen. The bill passed the House 100 to 37; it passed the Senate last month.

The proposed legislation has drawn a flurry of criticism from opponents who allege it is an attempt to use the current fervor over illegal immigration to punish those who have legally migrated to Texas.

“We’ve had a lot of bills [filed] that really try to attack a large segment of our population,” said state Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, one of 37 Democrats to vote against the measure.

But state Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, the House sponsor, said the bill was only meant to keep counties in line with what the federal government already mandates, and pointed to language on federal immigration forms, like the I-134. It requires that a sponsor agree to language that the alien “will not become a public charge in the United States.” The form also includes language specifically stating that the sponsor’s own income “and assets may be considered in deciding the person’s application.” Taylor filed an identical bill in the House, HB 655, but it was not heard before last week’s deadline.

The freshman lawmaker said he was urged to file bill by Collin County commissioners who said several applicants for indigent health care in his district did not qualify for the benefit once their sponsors’ incomes were taken in to account. He said the bill could save Collin County as much as a half-million dollars annually.

“This is more consistent with what the federal government intended,” he told lawmakers. “People that can afford to pay for their own health care shouldn’t have access to,” this benefit. The bill is permissive, Taylor added, and does not mandate counties adopt this rule.

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