Connecticut lawmakers are considering expanding coverage of the state’s Medicaid program for undocumented immigrants.


Current state law allows children under 12 to access the HUSKY Health program. That age will rise to 15 this summer, and a coalition of activists and elected officials are pushing for the age to be raised to 18.


“It’s really a moral imperative,” said state Sen. Matt Lesser, a Democrat who is among the chief proponents for the legislation. “If we’ve got a kid in the school who can’t go to see a doctor when they’re sick, that creates a real public health challenge. And it also creates a burden on our hospitals because they show up in the emergency room, and there’s no way to pay for the care.”


Dozens of activists were at the state capitol on Wednesday to meet with lawmakers and urge them to back the expansion of HUSKY.


“I haven’t gone to the hospital, like, in a very long time because I’m undocumented,” said Melany Yunga, one of the advocates who supports the “HUSKY 4 Immigrants” campaign.


The proposal is meeting sharp resistance from Republicans who question both the price tag and the message sent by expanding access to HUSKY. Lesser said a nonpartisan projection put the price tag of his proposal a little under $2 million in the first year of implementation.


“It’s almost like we have a flashing neon sign that says, ‘If you’re an undocumented alien, come to Connecticut. We’ll give you a driver’s license. We’ll give you expanded health care,’” said state Sen. Rob Sampson, a Republican who opposes the expansion.


Sampson ties policies like the “HUSKY 4 Immigrants” proposal to the ongoing debate over how to address high levels of unauthorized crossings over the U.S.-Mexico border.


“We’re all sympathetic to people wanting to get into the United States—it’s the greatest country on Earth. We’re all descended from immigrants,” Sampson said. “But you can’t have a nation without borders, in my opinion.”


In addition to outright opposition from Republicans, the “HUSKY 4 Immigrants” proposal also faces the challenge of being prioritized in a legislative session characterized by relatively few changes to the existing state budget.


“It’s really an uphill battle at this point,” Lesser said.


He added that he remained determined to support the expansion, even if it means continuing into next year’s legislative session to get it done.