Arizona’s Immigration Law and Doctors

In this week’s issue of NEJM, Dr. Lucas Restrepo from the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, AZ, articulates concerns over the impact of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, on access to medical care in the state:

It can be argued that health care providers who neglect to report illegal immigrants under their care will violate the law and be considered criminals. The bill provides physicians with no guidance as to what constitutes “reasonable grounds” to suspect that somebody is in the country illegally, leaving the particulars of such scrutiny to anyone’s imagination (although the fact that Arizona shares a border with Mexico rather than a European country suggests that whites will not be “reasonable” suspects).

Dr. Restrepo and colleagues also published a letter in the Arizona Republic earlier:

As physicians, we are concerned about the immigration bill signed by Gov. Jan Brewer. We care for many patients who may appear foreign based on superficial impressions. It is unclear whether health-care professionals like ourselves will infringe on the law if we don’t report patients or their families to the police or immigration authorities based on a vague suspicion of illegality. . . . Senate Bill 1070 tacitly prescribes a break with one of the oldest traditions of medicine: Physicians shall protect patients regardless of nationality or race [emph. added].

In a statement released on May 18, the National Physicians Alliance and CIR/SEIU-Healthcare condemn the law as “an affront to human rights and a devastating step backwards for the health and well being of the entire nation,” and warn that it will “create new obstacles to obtaining needed health care.”

More on Arizona SB 1070:

Does Arizona’s law go too far? Do you think it is likely to affect the practice of medicine in the state? Do doctors have a role to play in this debate? Join the discussion by leaving a comment!

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