Arizona continues to lead the nation in immigration reform. Monday, a Senate committee looked at a bill that could turn hospitals into immigration checkpoints.
Senate Bill 1405 would require all Arizona hospitals to determine a potential patient’s immigration status before rendering care, except in some emergencies. Proponents say the bill could save Arizona taxpayers millions of dollars, but opponents say not only would the bill add enormous administrative costs to health care, but would be unethical on top of it.
The bill would require that hospitals notify immigration officials anytime someone who cannot prove they are in the country legally seeks medical care.
While it is off the table for now, critics fear they have not seen the last of the bill. “I believe it was just pulled temporarily,” said Dee Dee Garcia Blase, national director of SOMOS Republicans. “We think they will bring it back at the last minute when there aren’t so many people there to testify against it.”
Alex Gonzales, political director for SOMOS, said a bill like this would be terrible public policy. “If you have someone with a highly contagious disease that could start an epidemic, you need to be able to treat that immediately. What happens if people are afraid that if they come to the hospital they will be deported? A law like this puts everyone, the entire community, at risk,” he said.
Republican lawmakers want to widen Arizona’s illegal immigration crackdown with a proposal to require hospitals to check on whether patients are in the country legally, causing outrage among medical professionals who fear becoming de facto immigration agents under the law.
The medical industry ripped the bill Monday as it was scheduled for a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Doctors envisioned scenarios in which immigrants with contagious diseases such as tuberculosis would stay home from the clinic or hospital and put themselves and the public at a grave health risk.
“This is making us into a police state that will try to catch people when they are sick,” said George Pauk, a retired doctor with an organization called Physicians for a National Health Program. “Do we want to stop sick people from coming in for health care?”
Arizona is the first Legislature to take up such a measure amid a national push in conservative states to crack down on illegal immigration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona lawmakers ignited the debate a year ago when they passed a bill that required local police, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally. A judge later put that provision on hold.
The introduction of the bill comes just days after an illegal immigrant in Texas with a banana-size tumor in her spine said she was ousted from her hospital because of her immigration status. She later found another hospital to get treatment.
In Colorado, the Legislature Monday killed one Arizona-type law while at the same time advancing a bill that would essentially require every county in Colorado to participate in Secure Communities.