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What does Trump's proclamation mean for visa applicants who must prove they'll have health coverage in the U.S.?

Several pro-immigrant organizations oversee family reunifications. They are usually undocumented sons and daughters who live in
Several pro-immigrant organizations oversee family reunifications. They are usually undocumented sons and daughters who live in the U.S. and have not been able to see their parents for decades. (Aurelia Ventura/La Opinión)
Undocumented & Uninsured
USC Center for Health Journalism News Collaborative
December 03, 2019

Miguel looks forward to the day when he can finally embrace his mother, whom he has not seen for nearly two decades. His 63-year-old mother has an appointment to apply for her visa next on December 18 in Mexico.

However, the mother and son are still worried about whether her visa will be approved, after President Donald Trump’s announcement that the government will deny visas to those who do not show proof of valid health insurance or the means to pay for their health services while in the United States.

“I saw in the news that [the measure] has been already blocked but we are still a little nervous,” said Miguel, 33, who preferred not to give his last name for security reasons.

The proclamation was announced in early October and was scheduled to take effect November 3, although it was temporarily blocked a day earlier by a federal court in Portland, Oregon.

The temporary restraining order (TRO) was initially valid until November 30, but was extended by federal judge Michael Simon for an indefinite period while the trial continues.

According to Trump, the health care system currently faces challenges caused by unpaid health care bills.

“The U.S. government is aggravating the problem by admitting thousands of foreigners who have shown no ability to pay for their health care costs,” Trump said in his proclamation.

For their part, lawyers fighting the ban say the “new requirement rewrites our immigration and health care laws” and will affect the entry of up to 375,000 individuals each year.

Political analyst Hernan Molina said this proclamation is part of Trump’s policy and is consistent with everything he has undertaken to reduce not only illegal but also legal immigration.

“This is another chapter in Trump’s anti-immigration saga even if it is legal immigration,” Molina said. “They perceive the immigrant as a person who occupies, invades and is here to take away jobs from Americans.”

Trump added that immigrants entering the country should not add an additional burden to the health care system or U.S. taxpayers.

“Data shows that legal immigrants are three times more likely than U.S. citizens to lack health insurance,” President Trump said in his proclamation.

The president referred to a study that revealed that among the non-elderly population, 23% of lawfully present immigrants and more than four in 10 (45%) undocumented immigrants are uninsured compared to less than one in 10 (8%) citizens. The Kaiser Family Foundation study also revealed that U.S. citizen children with at least one non-citizen parent are almost twice as likely to be uninsured compared to children in families where both parents are U.S. citizens, or 7% compared to 4%. 

Complying with visa rules

Miguel offered assurances that his mother is in good health but if necessary, he and his siblings would cover any medical expenses that might be required during her stay, he said. He added that his family will be heartbroken if she is unable to obtain a visa.

“My older brother has not seen her in 22 years. One of my brothers has two children and the other has three, and my mom hasn’t met any of her grandchildren,” said Miguel, who is single.

Miguel, a native of Sinaloa, Mexico, and the youngest of five children, immigrated to the United States at age 17 in order to work and help his parents, who remained in Mexico. In Los Angeles, he settled with his older siblings who had arrived before him. However, his undocumented status prevented him from returning to his country. He could not travel even when his father died five years ago.

For him and his siblings, the only option is for their mother to come here to visit them.

Fear of losing his visa due to medical services in the United States also affects Mr. Leonel, 48, and his family, who live in Huntington Park, southeast of Los Angeles. He has an 80-year-old uncle who has been granted a visa and comes to visit the family once or twice a year from Mexico.

However, on his last visit, a little over a month ago, the uncle became seriously ill to the point where he had to be hospitalized.

“His blood pressure went up a lot and we took him to the general hospital [Los Angeles County+USC],” said Leonel, who also did not want to provide his last name for security reasons.

He is a native of the state of Michoacan and immigrated to the United States 20 years ago. He got married in the U.S. and has three children. However, his status has not allowed him to return to his homeland.

Leonel just heard the announcement from President Trump planning to ban the approval of visas for anyone who did not have proof of how to pay for their medical services in the United States.

Leonel said his uncle was hospitalized for approximately seven hours ― from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. ― and the cost was around $1,800.

“We paid for his hospitalization for fear that, if this showed up on his record, he wouldn’t be allowed to come next time,” Leonel said.

Measure blocked but not overturned

Although Trump’s proclamation was blocked by a federal judge, it has not been overturned, experts say.

“The TRO was established to last 28 days,” Ramon Valdez said, director of strategic initiatives at Innovation Law Lab, which is part of the coalition that filed the lawsuit.

Valdez explained that the purpose of the TRO is to prevent plaintiffs and thousands of people from suffering irreparable harm due to the medical care ban.

The oral arguments took place November 22. Judge Simon ruled on Tuesday that the Trump Administration may not carry out this proclamation while the lawsuit is pending.

This lawsuit may take several months or even years, Christine Y. Chen said, a spokesperson for Justice Action Center, part of the coalition.

“As a comparison, the Muslim ban lawsuit lasted approximately one and a half years,” Chen stated.

The national complaint, filed by seven U.S. citizen litigants and the nonprofit Latino Network, is lodged against President Trump as well as the departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and their associated Cabinet Secretaries.

The complaint accuses the State Department of issuing an “Emergency Notice” with a period for public comments of less than 48 hours.

The notice stated that the proclamation would allow consular officials to “verbally ask immigrant visa applicants [under the proclamation] whether they will be covered by health insurance in the U.S. within 30 days of entry into the country.”

If the applicant replies affirmatively, “consular officers will ask applicants to identify a specific health insurance plan, the date coverage will begin, and any other information related to the insurance plan that the consular officer deems necessary.”

If applicants do not have health insurance but are able to prove they have financial resources to pay for their medical expenses, a visa will not be denied, according to the emergency notice.

Counting the days

Miguel is very hopeful that his mother’s tourist visa will be approved this time, since it was denied on several previous occasions.

“The last time was like four years ago, and although she had a bank account and all her documents, they denied it and told her to come back in a year,” said Miguel.

“The most stressful thing is knowing that the appointment is right before the holidays [end of year] and the officers may say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and their decision is final,” said Miguel. 

Miguel’s mother is part of a group of 40 senior citizens with a visa appointment on December 18 at the U.S. embassy in Hermosillo, Sonora.

Family reunification is carried out by Fraternidad Sinaloense, one of several immigrant groups abroad dedicated to reuniting elderly parents with their children — usually undocumented — living in the United States.

If their tourist visas are approved, the group of elders will arrive for the first week of January 2020 and will stay for a period of one month before returning as a group back to Mexico, said Imelda Beltran, a spokesperson for Fraternidad Sinaloense.

“There are children who will come to see their parents from Arizona and New Mexico,” Beltran said. “Everyone is excited and very hopeful.”

About This Series

This project results from an innovative reporting venture – the USC Center for Health Journalism News Collaborative – which involves print and broadcast outlets across California, all reporting together on the state’s uninsured. Outlets include newspapers from the McClatchy Corp., Gannett Co., Southern California News Group, and La Opinion, as well as broadcasters at Univision and Capital Public Radio. 

Topics in this Series

  • Affordability
  • Access to Care
  • Expanding Coverage
  • Undocumented & Uninsured
  • Legislative Fixes