Last summer, Fullerton College student Alma Leyva helped researchers conduct a survey confirming something she already knew, which is that many immigrant Latino youth in California lack affordable health care options.

“The finding isn’t news to our community,” Leyva said. “We already know folks don’t have access to health care. Because they don’t have access, they don’t go to the doctor, and they wait until they’re really sick.”

The survey she helped conduct was “Undocumented and Uninsured,” one of two recent California studies documenting unmet health needs among immigrant Latinos.

“Undocumented and Uninsured” was conducted statewide by immigrant youth and focused on people 18 to 32 who were eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, a federal program that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country at 16 or younger and since have lived continuously in the United States to gain temporary legal status, including work authorization.

California allows people with DACA status to apply for Medi-Cal, a fact that Leyva hopes more young immigrants will realize.

“One of the things we wanted to do is share the data from this study but also push for people to enroll in Medi-Cal,” she said.

The potential to insure more young immigrants through Medi-Cal is the focus of another new report, “Realizing the Dream for Californians Eligible for DACA,” from the UC Berkeley Labor Center and other institutions.

The report estimates that up to 81 percent of 130,000 young immigrants in California with DACA status are eligible for Medi-Cal because of their low income. But sign-ups are far from a certainty and will depend on effective outreach to inform and enroll DACA participants.

“Undocumented and Uninsured” was coordinated by the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education and funded by The California Endowment, a contributor to Voice of OC. It showed that 69 percent of young immigrants interviewed did not have health insurance, while half delayed getting medical care they needed in the past year. Ninety-six percent of those delaying care cited cost or lack of insurance as a reason.

Amy DePaul is a Voice of OC contributing writer and lecturer in the University of California, Irvine Literary Journalism program. You can reach her directly at

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