Obama order extends benefits to immigrants

Illegal immigrants protected from deportation under President Obama's executive action will be eligible for Medicare and other benefits once they enter the federal system.

The sweeping White House announcement last week means that up to 5 million people will be considered lawfully present in the United States despite having entered the country illegally.

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This status makes them eligible for programs such as Medicare and Social Security if they work and submit payroll taxes that flow to those programs. This fact was noted Tuesday in a report by The Washington Post.

Immigrants eligible for protected status will not be permitted to join ObamaCare's health insurance exchanges or receive tax credits to buy medical coverage, despite some claims to the contrary.

The idea of a large new group of immigrants becoming eligible for Medicare and other programs is likely to rouse further GOP criticism of Obama's executive order. And immigrants' eligibility for benefits will surely become a flashpoint an a legislative debate over immigration reform if Congress chooses to take up the issue.

Obama defended his actions as a valid use of "prosecutorial discretion" exercised by his predecessors.

"Why we would prefer a system in which [illegal immigrants] are in the shadows, potentially taking advantage of living here but not contributing?" Obama said in an interview aired Sunday on ABC's "This Week."