Arizona Bill Asks Hospitals To Check Immigration Status

Hospital staff would have to contact immigration officials.

Jan. 31, 2013— -- As efforts to pass immigration reform that would grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants gains momentum at the national level, one state is going in the opposite direction.

An Arizona lawmaker introduced a bill last week in the state legislature that would require hospital staff to check whether uninsured patients are in the country without documentation.

State Rep. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) introduced a bill that would require hospital staff to contact federal immigration officials or local law enforcement if patients cannot provide proof that they are authorized to be in the country. Hospitals would also have to file reports each year listing how many undocumented people they treated.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Smith said the bill is intended to track how many undocumented people receive free medical care in Arizona, not to withhold medical care.

But immigrant-advocacy groups say the bill could lead to discrimination and asks hospitals to take on an enforcement role when they should be focused on providing medical care.

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

Smith said during an interview with ABC/Univision that concerns are overblown about people who need treatment staying away from hospitals and potentially spreading diseases.

"I think that's a red herring," he said. "What you would probably see more of is the reaction with SB 1070. They will do what we saw so many do, which is the whole attrition through enforcement thing."

Smith mentioned a newspaper article that showed an undocumented family moving from Arizona to Colorado following the implementation of SB 1070, the state's controversial "show me your papers" measure, and said he thinks people will go where laws are softer.

"I think there's always going to be collateral damage with enforcement," Smith said. "You have to look at the bigger picture of what is best for citizens, what is best for taxpayers."

The bill exempts Canadian citizens and citizens of countries that participate in the visa waiver program. That program allows citizens of more than 30 countries, most of them European, to travel to the United States for up to three months without a visa. There are no Latin American countries on the list.

State Rep. Carl Seel (R-Phoenix), one of the bill's co-sponsors, told a CBS affiliate, "There's a lot of good relationships we have with Canada, legally, there's a lot of reciprocity."

"If you have Canadian papers, you're deemed legal in the United States," he continued.

That statement is false. There are undocumented Canadians staying in the country without permission.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Europe and Canada account for about four percent, or 500,000, of all unauthorized immigrants in the country.