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Immigration reform: A step forward in Senate, a leap back in House? (+video)

While Senate negotiators were able to sign off on a proposal for immigration reform, a bipartisan group in the House appears stuck on the issue of health care for newly legalized immigrants.

By Staff Writer / May 22, 2013

House Judiciary Committee members Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, right, and Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev. talk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 2013, during the committee's hearing on immigration reform.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

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Washington

If immigration reform took one step forward in the Senate this week, it could take a leap backward in the House if bipartisan negotiators cannot, by their self-imposed Thursday deadline, figure out how newly legalized immigrants can have access to affordable health care under President Obama’s signature legislation.

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The group, which has been working for the better part of four years on immigration reform legislation, could fracture without resolving the health-care issue, an outcome widely acknowledged to be a serious but not fatal setback for immigration reform’s prospects in the GOP-lead House.

While Democratic House negotiators in the eight-member group of immigration reformers signed off on a proposal that would have left the potential 11 million newly legalized immigrants to largely fend for themselves on health care, House Democratic leadership is concerned about the lack of specificity in the “agreement in principle” the group reached last week, according to a leadership aide.

The apparent obstacle to immigration reform has emerged amid repeated Republican efforts in the House to repeal Obamacare.

The aide said Democrats were concerned the agreement could be construed to mean that the newly legalized, who while pursuing a decade-long path to citizenship will be ineligible for health insurance subsidies and Medicaid, would be at risk for deportation should they hit medical bills they are unable to repay. Republicans and Democrats largely agree that none of those in the country illegally today should be given access to federal support programs until they have reached permanent legal status.

While saying he was “confident” the group could come to an accord, Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho says he is concerned that newly legalized immigrants would be too poor to pay for health insurance on the health-care exchanges due to be established later this year.

Representative Labrador argues that many of the 11 million people in the country illegally would, without coverage from an employer or through a spouse, be forced to go without insurance because of the high cost of unsubsidized health insurance under the health-care law. In the case of a medical emergency, debts could overwhelm what insurance they have, pushing costs off on to states and localities to pick up the tab – a fiscal burden that’s a no-go for Republicans.

In a talk with reporters Wednesday, Labrador questioned whether those who could not foot the bill for health care should be allowed to remain in the country at all.

“What might be the story at the end of this session is that Obamacare killed immigration reform,” says Labrador. “And it’s because it’s so hard for individuals to purchase their own health insurance.... It could be [Democrats] number one priority, which is Obamacare, could kill what they claim to be their number one priority,” immigration.

Democrats think the matter can still be resolved.

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