by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

PRUCOL. The term stands for “Permanently Residing Under Color of Law,” and it describes immigrants who are known to United States immigration authorities and not at risk of deportation – such as immigrants awaiting results on their applications to adjust their status. Yet, confusingly, PRUCOL is not actually an immigration status. It is a “benefits eligibility category.” Translation: If the government knows you’re here and approves of your presence, you may be entitled to public assistance.

Why does PRUCOL matter? One big reason is that PRUCOL immigrants are eligible for Medi-Cal, California’s health insurance program for low-income people. PRUCOL immigrants do not need to avoid the doctor’s office until it’s too late, or wait for many hours in emergency rooms. They can have access to preventative and non-emergency health care.

Any yet, perhaps because PRUCOL is hard to understand, many people who should know about it, don’t. Most tragically, many immigrants who are eligible for Medi-Cal do not know they are eligible – including the clients I see at our Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership (BeHeLP). In addition, some DPSS workers, who process Medi-Cal applications, don’t know about PRUCOL – and advocates report that eligible applicants have been turned away. Many health care and mental health professionals have also never heard of PRUCOL.

Yesterday was a great day for one of my clients at BeHeLP. She had been dealing with painful and troubling symptoms of illness that had interfered with her work and her ability to care for her young children, who all have mental health needs. She thought she was ineligible for health care because she was an immigrant, and she couldn’t leave her work and family to go to the emergency room. But yesterday, she completed the PRUCOL form. Then, she gathered her identification and proof of residence, packed her purse, and prepared to apply for Medi-Cal.