New Arizona Bill Wants Hospitals Policing Immigration

| Mon Jan. 28, 2013 10:22 AM EST
The state that brought you SB 1070, perhaps the harshest immigration law in the nation, is at it again with a bill that could bring illegal immigrant-hunting into new territory: hospitals.

Proposed last week by Republican state Rep. Steve Smith, HB 2293 would require hospital workers to verify the immigration status of uninsured people seeking care. They'd have to make note of any undocumented patient, and then call the police.

Speaking outside the Arizona capitol on Thursday, Rep. Smith called it simply "a data-collection bill" to figure out how much Arizona is spending on illegal immigrant care, promising that no one would be denied treatment or deported once their status is disclosed.

Neither of these guarantees is mentioned anywhere in the bill, but co-sponsor Rep. Carl Seel told Arizona's KPHO that hospitals wouldn't deny treatment, since "we're a benevolent nation."

If enacted, the bill could scare immigrants away from getting medical attention. Nationwide, the undocumented are already far less likely to seek health care. Advocates say the low rate is partially explained by a fear that they'll be reported to authorities. This law would do little to lighten such distrust: It doesn't explain what police should or can do with the data flowing in from hospitals. When he was asked whether law enforcement would show up to hospitals when notified, Smith's response was: "We have no clue."

Ostensibly, doctors wouldn't have to juggle providing care and phoning the cops; the bill makes it clear that other hospital employees should handle the bill's requirements. Still, the state's hospitals are pushing back. Pete Wertheim, a spokesman for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, says that with more than 3 million patients each year, the rules would be impossible to implement with current budgets and staffing. He also points out that if the law deterred immigrants with communicable diseases—think tuberculosis—from seeking treatment, it could endanger everyone in the state.

The bill is still in early stages, and hasn't yet made it to committee. And if precedent is any indicator, it's not likely to pass: Rep. Smith has introduced similar bills before, with little success. Laws he proposed last year that would have implemented immigration checks at schools and hospitals both failed in the Senate.
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