WASHINGTON — Issuing a last call for health care, President Barack Obama assured Latinos on Thursday that signing up for through new insurance exchanges won't lead to deportation for any relatives in the U.S. illegally.
Facing fresh skepticism from one of his traditionally most loyal constituencies, Obama pushed back on the notion of some critics that he's become America's "deporter in chief," insisting that Latinos know that "I've got their back." In a virtual town hall meeting hosted by Spanish-language media outlets, Obama disputed the notion his credibility had been undermined by problems with the health care rollout and his failure to secure legal status for millions of Latinos in the U.S. illegally.
"The main point that I have for everybody watching right now is, you don't punish me by not signing up for health care," Obama said. "You're punishing yourself or your family if in fact there's affordable health care to be had."
Obama's push to boost enrollment comes as the end-of-March deadline to enroll is rapidly approaching — and with it, renewed concerns that if the Obama administration misses its target, the insurance pool could become unsustainable and undermine the broader law's success. Enrolling Latinos, who are disproportionately uninsured in the U.S., has been a major priority, but the effort has been complicated by a cascade of obstacles including problems with the Spanish-language website.
People in the U.S. illegally aren't eligible to sign up, Obama said, but those with a legal presence in the country — such as legal residents — can enroll. Obama sought to pre-empt concerns that information collected in the process of signing up could be used to identify and deport the relatives of citizens or legal residents.
"So for everybody out there who is in a mixed family, there is no sharing of the data from the health care plan into immigration services," Obama said. "They should feel confident."
California's state-based exchange also hosted Obama's event. California's program has come under heavy criticism for lackluster efforts to sign up Latinos.
Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.