IN recent years, California has adopted a series of laws to help immigrants and undocumented populations with better opportunities, including obtaining driver’s licenses and education for youth.
Polls generally show broad support for a pathway to citizenship and more opportunities for the estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants living in the state.
However, it’s a different story when it comes to providing them healthcare benefits.
According to a new poll from USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times, California voters are sharply divided over whether free or low-cost health insurance should be granted to immigrants without legal status.
About 48 percent of voters polled believed that undocumented immigrants in the state should be eligible to receive free or low-cost health insurance, through Medi-Cal, or a similar program.
On the other hand, an equal 47 percent said the group should not be eligible, while about 6 percent said they didn’t know or did not want to answer the question.
Along ethnic lines, views are split, with 69 percent of Latino voters but only 39 percent of white voters responding that immigrants should be eligible.
Meanwhile, 68 percent of Democrats supported eligibility, but only 19 percent of Republicans agreed.
Opposition of eligibility was most passionate (90 percent) among supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Opposition among supports of the other candidates ranked substantially lower.
Support has been growing for years among Californians for new immigration policies that would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. But the poll underscored the divided views of the state, as Californians have remained somewhat conflicted when it comes to offering beneficial but costly services to those immigrants before they attain legal status.
Immigrant rights activists have pushed a proposal to provide state-funded healthcare attainable for all. They came close to succeeding this past summer, but lawmakers scaled back the proposal after cost estimates ran into the hundreds of millions.
Rather, legislators set aside $40 million in the most recent state budget to provide Medi-Cal coverage to children younger than 19 years old, regardless of legal status.
“The responses might have been different if the question had focused on only children who are in the country illegally,” said Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm that conducted the poll with the Republican firm American Viewpoint.
“Although past research has shown that Californians are liberal on a lot of immigration issues, the issue is not resolved when it comes to government benefits that involve financial compensation for those in the country without authorization,” said David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint.
“I have family members who are immigrants and I see how they work very hard and are sick. It’s not fair how I have insurance and they don’t,” said Wendy Sagastume, 26, of Los Angeles. “If they are sick, they should at least have help paying for their medicine.”
Sagastume, a Democrat who considers herself liberal, said her aunt was hit with an astronomically expensive bill after she was hospitalized for five days because of Type 2 diabetes. Her daughters pitched in to pay the bill.
Debbie Ruvolo from Mission Viejo disagreed, saying she believes people without legal status should not be eligible for free or low-cost healthcare.
“The benefit should be for only US citizens,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
About 20 years ago, Ruvolo shared, she tried to get government financial assistance to pay for her child’s special formula, which she couldn’t afford because her husband was out of a job. The family was barely scraping by but she was denied help, she said.
“I will never forget waiting in the waiting room and people were there from other countries and getting help,” Ruvolo said. “To me the system is set up to be there as a temporary support for people, if you are down and out and it’s out of your control. In other words, the US citizens are the ones paying taxes, so part of the tax money should go to that: to help US citizens.”
Another a wide gap showing Californians’ sharply divided views was the result of a similar poll from a few years ago, asking whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to obtain driver’s licenses. 69 percent of Latino voters and 44 percent of whites supported the new driving privilege law, AB 60, which had already gone into effect.
The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 1,500 registered state voters was done by telephone Aug. 29-Sept. 8. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, higher for subgroups.