Emergency Room Politics

There’s a bill currently before the consideration of Congress, HR 3722, that calls for emergency room personnel to turn in undocumented aliens to the INS (now part of the Department of Homeland Security) if they wish to be reimbursed for the costs of treating them. The staff would have to photograph and/or fingerprint them, and then call Homeland Security to begin deportation proceedings.

I can think of one problem right off the bat: people who need medical care won’t seek it, because they’ll be afraid of getting deported, and as a result, if an infection gets started, it really places us at risk of falling victim to an epidemic.

But that’s a practical concern. The bigger question is, why is this a big deal?

It used to be that emergency rooms were strictly concerned with emergent or urgent medical care. But more and more, ERs are being used as health clinics, because people who don’t have insurance go there to receive routine medical care. ERs have to treat patients that stroll through their doors, no matter how minor the affliction. This places a huge strain on our first responder staff, who now have to deal with treating patients that logically could be seen by a GP, if not for the mess that is our current health care system. If you add to this a requirement to document illegal aliens, it may well strain our ERs beyond the limit.

Now, you may say, that’s all well and true, but if it manages to catch a single terrorist, then it’s worth it!

Not true, my friend; because the single largest uninsured group in America isn’t al-Qaeda wannabes…it’s Latinos! That’s right–a whopping 41% of Latinos lack any medical insurance, and they’re the group most likely to use ERs as a health clinic. Anybody wanting to inflict terror upon the populace would be caught despite this law, not because of it. Jose Padilla aside (and I think that’s a rather dubious case myself, but that’s for another time), the incidence of terrorism in the Latino community is a bit low; matter of fact, Latinos make up 37% of the armed forces. Those would be the same armed forces that we so lavish with praise and lionization.

So why does the bill exist? I suspect that it’s a throwback to the days when illegal immigrants (mostly from Latin America, mind you) were going to overwhelm America, take all our jobs, and have us speaking Spanish and eating arroz con pollo and other like delicacies. I use the term throwback loosely because in many circles, that idea has never gone out of style–see Samuel Huntington’s jeremiad in last month’s Foreign Policy, for one example; there’s also the recent attempt to take over the Sierra Club, and of course, the ready example of one Thomas Tancredo, the dishonorable gentleman from Colorado by way of the Know-Nothing Party.

You may think that I take this personally, and I do; I’m Puerto Rican. I was born in Puerto Rico, lived there the first eight years of my life. English isn’t even my first language; I learned to speak Spanish first, of course, but I’ve learned English so well that I suspect that I speak it, write it, and read it better than my native tongue. And of course, I hated America so much that I freely chose to serve in her Army, willing to put my life on the line for the truths that I was told we hold to be self-evident.

I’m tired of hearing pompous fools like Huntington and Tancredo bloviate moronically about the brown peril threatening America, and a bill like this isn’t aimed to fight terror, and those who hate America; it’s aimed squarely at a population that loves America, and the idea of her, so much that they’ll risk everything, including their lives, in order to have a chance at a better life. It’s the immigrant story, writ again, for better and for worse. Every other immigrant group went throught the same experience, and in the end, I think, the same thing will happen. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t sting from time to time.

If you’re interested in wanting to let your representative know how you feel about HR 3722, call the switchboard at 202-224-3121. Or email them here.
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Here’s the email alert that I received via my father:

As early as next Tuesday, May 11, the House will vote on H.R. 3722, a bill introduced by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

Among its provisions, H.R. 3722, the Undocumented Alien Emergency Medical Assistance Amendments of 2004, would deny hospitals and other health care providers reimbursement for uncompensated emergency care they provide to undocumented immigrants unless they report those immigrants to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Providers would thus have to verify the immigration status of all uninsured patients presenting health care emergencies. Health care providers would be required to transmit to DHS information including their
patients’ financial data, identity of employer, and biometric information. The Rohrabacher bill also would narrow the scope of emergency health services available to undocumented persons and make
inability to pay medical expenses a basis for removal from the U.S. Employers of undocumented workers whose medical expenses are reimbursed by the federal government would be required to repay the
government for those costs.

This proposal would jeopardize the health of immigrants and the general public. Immigrants and their families would be deterred from seeking needed health services, including testing and treatment for
communicable diseases. Overburdened emergency health care providers would be forced to verify the immigration status of emergency patients, and report those believed to be undocumented to immigration
authorities, in conflict with patient privacy rights and the fundamental principle that they refrain from harming their patients. The bill would impose additional burdens on employers, including small businesses, who already are required to verify the citizenship and immigration status of workers. It also would increase the likelihood of discrimination against persons assumed to “appear foreign” because of their race, accent or other prohibited factors.

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3 responses to “Emergency Room Politics

  1. I agree totally, the whole idea is absurd.

    And just HOW are emergency room staff supposed to verify the citizenship or immigration status of everyone who walks in the door? We are talking about EVERYONE who walks in the door after all unless doctors are supposed to mysteriously sense who is a citizen, legal resident, and illegal. From their driver’s license? Easily faked or fraudulently obtained. Unless we move to some sort of high-tech tamper proof national ID card the idea is ridiculous.

    Anyone who has ever dealt with the INS can appreciate the absurdity of expecting any sort of immediate response from them on anything. They are YEARS behind processing some paperwork, and they are going to be able to IMMEDIATELY verify citizenship of all emergency room patients nationwide in minutes or seconds prior to emergency treatment?

    It’s one thing to impose verification procedures on employers who can wait for days or weeks or even months if necessary before the INS responds. But ER doctors don’t qute have that same time frame. So the whole thing is an obvious farce.

  2. Rich Puchalsky

    This bill would be a horror story if enacted into law — but I wonder how much chance there is of that happening. There are a large number of horrible bills introduced every year, most go nowhere. Is there any indication about how much support this one has?

  3. A Lebanese friend once told me of a great source of frustration in the rest of the world: How can America be so great and powerful when Americans are so lazy and stupid?

    Differences in percepton aside, I told him our secret: We’ve been brain-draining the Earth for 200+ years. I told him that if he showed me a good, honest, hard-working American, then I’d show him an immigrant. I then assured him that his children (both born in the USA) would be just as lazy and ignorant as any other good American; but not to worry–there are always more immigrants to rescue us from ourselves.

    There are few things in the world quite as funny as seeing a Lebanese guy fume because he knows you’re right =)