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(Photo credit: ABC News Online)

By Marjorie Jeffrey (@MarjorieJeffrey)

The Catholic Health Association (CHA) is lobbying individual U.S. senators to pass S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Though immigration reform does not appear on their 2013-2014 Advocacy Agenda, the CHA is a staunch advocate of amnesty for illegal immigrants, and for extending the Affordable Care Act to cover their healthcare needs.

In an email sent to individual senators and also posted on the CHA website, Sr. Carol Keehan, President and CEO of the CHA writes, “On behalf of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), the national leadership organization of more than 2,000 Catholic health care systems, hospitals, long-term care facilities, sponsors, and related organizations, I am writing to express our support for S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.”

The letter goes on to state:

We were pleased to see such strong bipartisan support for S. 744 this week, and we hope to see that continue. As the Senate moves to debate the many amendments expected to be offered to this legislation, we urge you to keep the core elements of the bill intact even as improvements are considered. Above all, S. 744 in its final form must provide an achievable and accessible path to citizenship that includes the maximum number of people and improves family reunification measures. CHA and its partner organizations in the Catholic community remain particularly concerned about potential amendments to set unreasonable border security controls for the bill, as well as amendments to make the path to citizenship more difficult by increasing the amount of fines or imposing difficult income requirements including the payment of back taxes. If and when these amendments are offered, we strongly urge you to oppose them. [Emphasis added.]

This support is not unprecedented, given the CHA’s official stance on immigration policy. However, the CHA has not publicly announced support for S. 744. Nor is it clear why Sr. Keehan specifically opposes border security measures.

As health care providers, CHA also is committed to the principle that all persons including immigrants need and deserve access to affordable, quality health care. During the committee mark-up process CHA supported amendments proposed by Sen. Mazei Hirono to expand access to coverage under the legislation. The first would ensure access to coverage under the Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Programs for all low-income, lawfully present children and pregnant women—including those deemed as “registered provisional immigrants” (RPI) under the legislation—who otherwise meet the eligibility requirements for these programs. The amendment also allows lawfully present individuals to be eligible for the Medicare program and for the nutritional assistance program (SNAP). The long-term effects of inadequate health care services and nutrition can prevent children, many of who will become U.S. citizens, from reaching their full potential. Without this amendment, low-income children would be denied access to Medicaid and CHIP coverage for 15 years.

The second amendment would clarify that those with RPI status will satisfy the current five-year waiting period for federal benefits, including Medicaid, during their 10-year provisional status, rather than having to wait an additional five years after being granted permanent lawful status. While CHA has always advocated the elimination of this waiting period altogether, we strongly support any measures that would shorten the length of time for immigrants to have access to vital health programs. Unfortunately these amendments were withdrawn during the mark-up, but we anticipate that they will be offered on the floor this month and strongly urge you to support them.

One might wonder why the CHA opposes border security measures and supports not only the extension of Obamacare to immigrants both legal and illegal, but is also lobbying senators to add provisions that will lessen the waiting time for immigrants to be placed in the tax-payer funded healthcare system.

The CHA’s motivations may be pure, but one doesn’t have to look far for another alternative. If this bill passes, with the amendments that they support, that would provide the CHA’s hospitals with a huge influx of new patients, who would just so happen to have all of their healthcare paid for by the American taxpayer. In other words, it’s a goldmine.