Thursday, May 31, 2007

"REAL ID" Rules Blocking Citizens, Not Illegals

I've sort of sat on this story for a bit, and I'm glad I did. I think something else came up the day I wanted to discuss it, but after that I wanted to see if any other parts of the blogosphere and/or tradtional press would pick it up. No one really has.

"It" is the recent release by DHS regarding the effects of new rules on the federal health care system as administered in Oregon--specifically the part about recipients having to recertify or newly apply with original, notarized birth records. The report came out in early May and was ably described by our friends at Oregon Center for Public Policy:
New federal rules that require Oregon to verify the identity and citizenship of individuals applying for Medicaid-funded programs have barred over 1,000 Oregonians, mostly children and citizens, from getting health care, a new report by the Department of Human Services finds.

More than 1,000 Oregonians, almost all of whom the State believes to be US citizens, were denied health care services because they were unable to comply with restrictive paperwork requirements created by the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA). The DRA requires individuals applying or recertifying for services to prove their identity and citizenship by providing specified documents according to a limited list of those acceptable. The Department of Human Services report analyzes the impact of the harsh new paperwork rules in Oregon over the first six months the new rules were in place, September 2006 through February 2007.

“The new rules were imposed in a misguided attempt to keep non-citizens from receiving health care benefits for which they are not eligible. Ironically, the primary impact has been to keep citizens from receiving health care benefits for which they are eligible,” said Janet Bauer, a policy analyst at the Oregon Center for Public Policy. Bauer noted that 91 percent of denied households spoke English as their primary language.

The report also shows that children have been disproportionately harmed by the new provisions. The state study found that nearly two-thirds of those who were denied health services were children.

“The federal rules have backfired in Oregon and kids are getting the brunt of it,” said Bauer.
OCPP never pulls any punches in their rhetoric, but they have the advantage of almost always being right. And the report, which you should download as a pdf from here and read, goes pulled punch-less as well--the imposition of citizenship mandates on indigent health care has been a disaster for many of those who most need it.

I wanted to see if others jumped in on this because it seemed to be of a piece to so many other stories in the news. The true motivation behind the whole REAL ID movement is not particularly hidden by its right wing champions; the fear is that La Raza is coming to Oregon to register everyone and then start stuffing the ballot box to set up free tax money giveaways for anyone named Hector or Consuela. Whether it's the vote, health care benefits, driver's licenses, whatever--the point is to thwart the Mexican horde.

The only problem with this theory is that no one has successfully shown it exists, and in fact the most thorough looks at it have reached the opposite conclusion, that there really isn't any problem of mass benefits-taking after all. And if that were the end of it, that the whole process was redundant to a problem that didn't exist, maybe it's worth merely a grumble if not a whole angry column.

But the deeper goal at work is that Republicans don't even care if there's a problem or not. A large part of their purpose is to wage what I'd call regulatory terrorism. The desire is to not only set up barriers to illegal benefits, but to scare off or incidentally bar some of those who are actually eligible. Why? Because almost all of the people who would find themselves in that situation and can actually vote, usually vote against Republicans.

Guv Ted issued a proclamation after the rules were announced, assuring everyone that the recoginized the danger of supression by intimidation, and the difficulty in procuring documentation to the standard required. (What the hell do you do if you're 87 and your birth record was in a town hall that burned to the ground in 1949?) The state actually has done a decent job of tracking people's documents down if they were born anywhere in Oregon. But that still left over 1,000 people empty handed who should have been helped. Happily it seems to be a lot less than was predicted prior to the law's passage, but it's still simply wrong, and what's infuriating is knowing what it's occuring in service to-- the effort to make sure you stop exercising your rights or at least don't fully understand what they are.

And that permeating goal is the infection that has fed the US Attorney scandal--the DOJ's purpose was being perverted to harrass marginal people, citizens and non-citizens alike. The charges of vote suppression and illegal voting in Washington brought Carla and I together as bloggers, and the revelations keep coming about just how hard Republicans tried to pretend it was happening. This is Bush's Watergate story--the desperate attempt to cover up a whole rat's nest of shit designed to keep them in power, much of which fairly clearly played keepaway with the Constitution. So I thought this story--not only is the REAL ID concept a solution in search of a problem, it's a problem in and of itself--might generate some play.

A few days after OCPP's treatment, The O ran a fairly extensive and solid piece on the way things were working out pretty much as the goobernor predicted, and in the initial burst that seemed to be it. The blogs were silent. And then a couple of days ago there was another little flurry. Last week in Eugene, the CEO of Southwest OR's Planned Parenthood described the same scenario as DHS's study, this time concerning women coming for pregnancy services: the documentation barrier is blocking legitimate patients from getting them. On Sunday the Birmingham, Alabama News essentially replicated the findings from Oregon: Legitimate Medicaid recipients were being rejected only because they could not produce the proper papers. The article earned a diary at DailyKos, which sparked further discussion, but that's been the extent of it.

I know there's at least one bill alive in the statehouse that would impose these moronic restrictions on the application for a driver's license, and it's still unclear whether it's waiting its turn in Ways and Means, or it's been buried in Ways and Means. All the usual suspects have signed onto it in the House, but in the Senate it has some curious bipartisan support, including from Sen. Rick Metsger--although he had seemed to hedge lately. Hedge or whatever, it's not what we need in Oregon.

Update, 1230pm--

Whaddya know...while trolling through The O's politics blog for something else, I found yesterday's note that our friend Dennis Richardson tried to pull 3554 onto the floor to get a full debate. He actually got Chris Edwards to vote with him, but the motion failed on a 30-30 tie. Richardson also tried to bring out a bill (3553) that would allow cops to detain people on suspicion of being undocumented, and also force prosecutors to see whether convicted persons are undocumented, and alert federal authorities. That one failed 31-29. Elections matter, people.