Nevada’s Democratic state lawmakers plan to introduce a bill giving Medicaid to illegal immigrants, at an estimated initial cost of $78.5 million.
The proposed legislation comes from State Sen. Fabian Doñate, Co-Majority Whip of the Senate Democrats. Doñate issued the cost estimate during a Wednesday press conference; however, he implied that the extension could end up being more, since there are no exact data on illegal immigrant totals in Nevada and folks are “scared” to admit their immigration status. The bill — titled the “Nevada Health Opportunities, Planning, and Expansion Act,” or “HOPE Act” for short — has yet to be filed.
Doñate first disclosed the Medicaid expansion plan during a press conference on the opening day of Nevada’s legislative session last month through the Latino Legislative Caucus, which he chairs. The proposed extension of benefits to illegal immigrants falls under the caucus’ legislative priorities for this session.
The NLLC is proud to push forward towards helping serve our communities and fight for the rights of our fellow Latino brothers and sisters.
— Nevada Latino Legislative Caucus (@NVLatinoLeg) February 7, 2023
In a Wednesday press conference on the act, Doñate called the legislation “fiscally responsible” and “the right thing to do.” Doñate then invited two illegal immigrant activists to testify on behalf of the proposed legislation.
That illegal immigrant activist, Samuel Cano, explained that the legislation means a lot to him because he’s currently an “undocumented” nursing student at the College of Southern Nevada (CSN). Cano, who said he entered the country illegally around four years old, has also served in student leadership at CSN, leading as a campus senator for the Associated Students of the College of Southern Nevada (ASCSN).
Cano complained that he’s unable to obtain health insurance because he’s an illegal immigrant. Cano said that this limitation prevents him from achieving greater success in his intended career as a nurse.
“This is a major setback for me, and it is preventing me from achieving my goal. It is heartbreaking to know that the only thing that is standing between me and my dream is something as basic as health care,” said Cano.
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Cano has been involved in other activist efforts as of late. Earlier this month, Cano rallied with the Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition at the Nevada State Capitol to make water, clean air, and a “clean and healthy environment” into constitutional rights within a “Green Amendment.” The proposed constitutional amendment would also preclude state lawmakers from taking any action that would degrade, diminish, or deplete the environment.
Rico Ocampo, an illegal immigrant activist with the nonprofit Make the Road Nevada, said that the United States failed him as a child because his family couldn’t obtain insurance after his older brother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. (Ocampo’s bio on Make the Road Nevada lists his brother as younger, not older). Despite receiving financial aid from social workers, Ocampo’s family purportedly lost their home and faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt.
“We didn’t qualify for Medicaid because of our immigration status. The health care system failed us, and we were left to bear the financial and emotional burden of Carlito’s [inaudible] on our own,” said Ocampo. “He died as an undocumented person, a tragic reminder of how the country that I call home will gladly take our labor but deny our humanity.”
Other caucus members include Majority Floor Leader Sandra Jauregui, Assemblywomen Elaine Marzola, Selena Torres, Bea Duran, and Cecilia González, and State Sens. Edgar Flores and Dina Neal — all Democrats.
Democrats hold a majority in both Nevada’s House and Senate: 13 members in the 21-member Senate, and 28 members in the 42-member House. Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo is a Republican. Should Lombardo veto the bill while the legislature is still in session, the legislation would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to override. If the legislature is no longer in session, the bill would return the following session.