Moral Low Ground

US Government

Arizona Bill Would Force Hospitals to Verify Uninsured Patients’ Immigration Status, Report Suspected ‘Illegals’

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

A Tea Party Republican state lawmaker in Arizona has introduced a bill that would require hospitals to verify the immigration status of uninsured patients to ensure they are not in the country illegally and notify authorities in the absence of such proof.

Under HB 2293, if hospital staff cannot verify the patient’s legal status, they “must immediately contact the local federal immigration office or a local law enforcement agency to report the incident.”

HB 2293 is sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith of Maricopa, who has also just introduced a controversial bill that would require public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States. Speaking at the state capitol in Phoenix on Thursday, Rep. Smith called his measure a “data collection bill” and attempted to assure skeptics who fear it will deter undocumented immigrants from seeking medical care that nobody will be denied treatment.

“We don’t deny anybody, they don’t come in and not get treated, everything stays the same, we just want it documented,” Smith said. He added that the goal of the measure was to determine how much the state spends on treating undocumented immigrants each year.

Critics counter that the bill targets immigrants and deters undocumented immigrants, who are much less likely to seek needed medical care, from getting essential and emergency treatment. Opponents of the measure also assert that it unfairly requires hospitals to essentially police immigration.

After Alabama, Arizona has the nation’s toughest law targeting undocumented immigrants. SB 1070, which requires police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, has created what immigrant rights advocates call a ‘climate of fear’ in the state among Latinos, both documented and otherwise. Revelations that the law was racially motivated increased uneasiness. Critics claim that Smith’s new bill will further exacerbate the situation.

“This bill would legalize harassment of immigrants and, in fact, of any woman who looks like an immigrant,” Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, told the Los Angeles Times.

Other critics point to cities like San Francisco, California, a sanctuary city that is committed to providing safe and accessible public services– including medical care– to all comers regardless of their immigration status, as a better example of how to treat people. The Healthy San Francisco program provides free hospital treatment to many undocumented immigrants, and city officials are not allowed to inquire about a person’s immigration status.

Back in Phoenix, Rep. Smith insists that his bill is strictly to determine the cost of treating undocumented immigrants.

“They’re (hospitals) not withholding care, they’re not deporting, they’re not throwing them out, they’re not doing anything,” he said.

But under the language of the bill, they will be notifying federal immigration authorities or local law enforcement, and with officials like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio aggressively targeting people he calls “illegal aliens,” many undocumented immigrants may be extremely hesitant to seek medical care if HB 2293 is signed into law.

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