Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, is open to documented immigrants. But Executive Director Peter Lee says many are afraid signing up will expose undocumented family members to the risk of deportation.
"There are millions of Californians who are in what are called mixed-status families," he says. "You might have a parent who is undocumented but a child who is a legal resident. That child might be eligible for Covered California or Medi-Cal."
But Lee says the federal government has been clear on its policy.
"The federal government has stated emphatically that immigration information needed to apply for health coverage will only be used for getting people health coverage," he says.
Covered California is joining with immigrant rights groups to spread that message. The Department of Motor Vehicles is stressing a similar message as it prepares to issue driver licenses to the undocumented.
But it could be a tough sell. UC Berkeley Sociology Professor Irene Bloemraad says undocumented Californian’s are very afraid.
"President Obama has reached record levels of deportation over his administration. And so the fear is very real," she says. "Most people in California have probably known somebody who has been deported or removed"
And Bloemrad says being deported is more than just an inconvenience.
"Being deported means that you can no longer work, you can no longer support your family. You’ll be separated for your family for months, if not years, usually years as you try to work things out," she says. "You’re really ripped from your community.”
Bloemrad says a recent study from the Migration Policy Institute may indicate how strong the fear is. The study found only about half of all undocumented California youth who are eligible for deportation relief actually applied for it.