The Legal Gain: The Impact of the 1986 Amnesty Program on Immigrants’ Access to and Use of Health Care

Lanlan Xu, Indiana University

This paper capitalizes on the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) as a natural experiment to examine the impact of legal status on immigrants’ health care access and utilization. IRCA, which is the largest amnesty program in U.S. history, allowed unauthorized immigrants who had entered the U.S. before Jan. 1, 1982 to apply for legal permanent residence status. This exogenous policy change allows immigrant entry date to be used as an instrumental variable (IV) to tease out the impact of gaining legal status on immigrants’ health insurance coverage and health care utilization patterns. Data come from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey. Results show that the gaining of legal status significantly increases immigrants’ probability of having health insurance, primarily through the increased probability of having a private health insurance plan. However, legal status does not seem to be associated with immigrants’ health care utilization behaviors.

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Presented in Poster Session 4: Migration and Urbanization; Population, Development and the Environment