May 14, 2004 – Immigrant rights advocates are concerned about a new bill designed to pressure health care providers into turning undocumented immigrants over to the Department of Homeland security. They say the legislation is likely to cause confusion and anxiety in immigrant communities and may result in an increase in disease outbreaks, complications of health conditions, and deaths.
House Resolution 3722, or the Undocumented Alien Emergency Medical Assistance Amendment of 2004, is winding its way through the House of Representatives this week. It would tweak provisions in the already controversial Medicare Prescription Drug Act of 2003. The Amendment would restrict hospitalsâ€™ access to reimbursement funds for emergency room treatment of undocumented immigrants unless health care providers collect information regarding their patientsâ€™ citizenship or immigration status, finances, and employer information.
Health care personnel would also be required to collect "biometric data," such as fingerprints, to be submitted to the Department of Homeland Security, and alert immigration officials to initiate deportation proceedings.
California Republican Dana Rohrabacher introduced the bill, saying he believes undocumented immigrants should be deported and "their own country should take care of them."
Under the proposed legislation, employers of undocumented workers, even if they do not offer health insurance, would be responsible for their workersâ€™ emergency medical costs.
Medical professionals are concerned that Rohrabacher's bill blunts their ability to treat the sick, while immigrant groups fear it will isolate immigrant communities even further.
Gregory Pivirotto, Chief Executive officer of the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona, opposes the bill in spite of the almost $2.5 million the hospital spends caring for undocumented immigrants. "I worry about the implication of it," Pivirotto told the Arizona Republic. "It makes us similar to a jail, and that would make it very difficult for our caregivers."
The American Hospital Association is also lobbying against the legislation. One of their senior lobbyists told the Republic, "It would turn hospital workers into de facto immigration agents."
"While Rohrabacher clings to the notion that we can deport eight to ten million men, women, and children, the real immigration reform debate has passed him by," said Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum in a press statement. "Policies like this only drive immigrants further underground and make them afraid to seek a doctor's care." Kelleyâ€™s group is a pro-immigrant advocacy organization.
The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is also organizing against the bill. The nonprofit, Hispanic advocacy organization believes that depriving undocumented immigrants of health care endangers the health of all Americans because potentially contagious diseases, such as Tuberculosis, could go untreated. The group also says the data collection required by the bill will place an undue financial burden on health care providers.
"The very fact that the House of Representatives will consider the measure on the floor is likely to sow confusion and fear in immigrant communities," wrote the NCLR in a media advisory.
Partha Banerjee, of New York's New Immigrant Community Empowerment, told the Inter Press Service that Rohrabacher's bill would be "disastrous."
"Immigrants who are already disproportionately represented among the nation's uninsured will avoid hospitals when they hear about the policy," Banerjee said, and the end result would be more "unnecessary deaths."