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A whole new kind of death panel
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A whole new kind of death panel

Bill would force hospitals to verify the immigration status of patients

Since Senator Russell Pearce became president of the Arizona Senate this year he's ushered in a barrage of anti-immigrant legislation, most famously the assault on the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship.

Now the original sponsor of SB 1070 has introduced a bill that should attract even more notoriety. This one has the ominous overtones of being all but guaranteed to cause great harm and even death to some of the people of this state.

Senate Bill 1405 reads:

A. BEFORE A HOSPITAL ADMITS A PERSON FOR NONEMERGENCY CARE, A HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS OFFICER MUST CONFIRM THAT THE PERSON IS A CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES, A LEGAL RESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OR LAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES. THE ADMISSIONS OFFICER MAY USE ANY METHOD PRESCRIBED IN SECTION 1-501 TO VERIFY CITIZENSHIP OR LEGAL STATUS.

B. IF THE ADMISSIONS OFFICER DETERMINES THAT THE PERSON DOES NOT MEET THE REQUIREMENTS OF SUBSECTION A OF THIS SECTION, THE ADMISSIONS OFFICER MUST CONTACT THE LOCAL FEDERAL IMMIGRATION OFFICE.

C. IF THE HOSPITAL PROVIDES EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE PURSUANT TO FEDERAL REQUIREMENTS TO A PERSON WHO DOES NOT MEET THE REQUIREMENTS OF SUBSECTION A OF THIS SECTION, ON SUCCESSFUL TREATMENT OF THE PATIENT THE ADMISSIONS OFFICER MUST CONTACT THE LOCAL FEDERAL IMMIGRATION OFFICE.

D. A HOSPITAL THAT COMPLIES WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF THIS SECTION IS NOT SUBJECT TO CIVIL LIABILITY.

What this means is that anyone who is admitted to or receives emergency care at a hospital will have to prove that they are lawfully present in the United States. This of course presents a whole hornet's nest of problems—the least of which is hospitals will most likely not appreciate being saddled with the added responsibility of immigration enforcement.

Of much greater importance is the likelihood that anyone who happens to be undocumented in this state (an estimated 460,000 people) may avoid hospitals for themselves or their family at all costs—even if the price is death.

Of course a reasonable person would ask why someone would risk death to avoid deportation. The simple answer is that many who go to hospital emergency rooms really have no idea if their condition is life-threatening.

It's a fact that denial is an inevitable component of our psyche. If a parent is faced with a child in respiratory distress—but also the prospect of their family being arrested and thrown into a deportation facility—chances are very likely that they will try to deny that their child is headed for respiratory arrest and death until it's too late. If a child is injured in a fall and showing signs of lethargy, parents may convince themselves that this will get better with time, when in fact time may be quickly running out.

Few immigrant parents are medical professionals—that is why they need unfettered access to hospital emergency rooms for their children without the prospect of being taken to jail as a result of seeking care. It is a fact that many of the undocumented tend to avoid hospitals due to ungrounded fears of becoming a target for deportation but now they will face a real and present danger if they enter a hospital and even more will take desperate measures to put off medical care.

Of course it's not just children who are at risk with this bill. Mothers who are in labor will need to choose whether to go to the hospital and risk deportation or take the chance that their delivery will be an uncomplicated one to have at home—a very real risk as many of these women do not receive good prenatal care.

Midwives who attend births will be forced to contend with sending their patients off to certain deportation when a breech or other complication threatens the mother and baby or, if their patient refuses to go, being left in an untenable situation. An adult with an infection will not get treatment and could end up with overwhelming sepsis. Victims of beatings, stabbings, or other violent crimes will refuse to seek treatment. Cancer patients will be unwilling to have surgery to remove a fast-growing tumor.

The list of bad outcomes possible with this kind of legislation is simply endless.

And how long before the scope of this law is expanded? Will emergency medical providers in the field be required to verify immigration status of their patients? Will urgent care clinics need immigration policies? Doctor's offices? Home health nurses and midwives?

The rationale offered by the proponents of this bill appears to be that undocumented people really don't deserve medical care—or perhaps they do but only if they are willing to accept deportation as the cost.

They're here "illegally" and now the punishment we are willing to mete out for this breach of our broken immigration system is death or disability.

"Let them die" is often heard from the haters of the undocumented—these so-called law-abiding folks who have decided that they are judge, jury and executioner of human beings who have at most committed a misdemeanor. Never mind that if any U.S. citizen were to seek medical care in another country such as Canada or Mexico we would not be subjected to this kind of scrutiny.

The goal stated by Senator Russell Pearce is to drive the undocumented out of this state. One can only surmise that he feels that the inevitable death of children is but a small price to pay to reach this objective.

So far this year we've seen not only SB 1405 but two bills designed to take away birthright citizenship, a bill that will nullify the use of Consulate ID cards by immigrants and a bill to allow our cash-strapped state to pay for any upcoming legal costs associated with the now enjoined SB 1070. Also bills that allow guns to be carried into all public buildings—including universities, a bill assigning Arizona Rangers to patrol the border and one to allow the shooting of "varmints" at night within city limits—and let's not forget the bill that will authorize the State of Arizona to blithely nullify any federal law it happens to disagree with.

Unfortunately for this state, these examples are just the tip of one very large iceberg of legislative insanity.

These bills constitute nothing but distractions and distractions are exactly what our so-called leaders are counting on to keep the focus off their inability to deal with the real issues that face Arizona: loss of jobs, a weakening economy, budget deficits, a worsening education system and one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.

Arizona, which used to be known for its Grand Canyon and balmy winters, is now more famous across the country for being the number one promoter of nutty gun laws and inhumane ways to drive out Latino immigrants—just short of employing pitchforks and torches. It's become ever clearer with each passing day and insane bill before our legislature that Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was absolutely correct when he famously said in the wake of the Tucson shootings that our state has become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

All of this prompts the obvious question: what are we going to do about it?

The effects of these inhumane and unconstitutional laws are far reaching. There are now numerous states across the nation that are mimicking the bad legislation that has orginiated in Arizona. It's only by sending an undeniable message to the epicenter of hate in our country that we may finally see an end to the madness.

There is currently a grassroots effort underway headed by Citizens for a Better Arizona to recall the mastermind of our hate-based immigration bills, Senator Russell Pearce. Only 7,756 signatures are needed to bring about the recall and this is a very obtainable goal.

You can help Arizona change its status from the "dry hate state" back to a place where people and businesses want to come to enjoy the great beauty and opportunities it has to offer. By helping us you can also send a message that these types of laws won't be tolerated, not only in Arizona, but everywhere.

Please visit www.recallpearce.com to find out how.

Amy is an Arizona resident whose passion about human rights has evolved into activism since the passage of SB 1070. She’s originally from Maine, where she was part of the tourism industry for over 20 years. Her writings have appeared in the Tucson Sentinel, Truthout, and Open Salon. Her full-time work is as a volunteer and clinic director at a nonprofit free clinic she co-founded in downtown Phoenix.

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