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Local hospital executives joined with the Pima County Board of Health and the Pima County Medical Society yesterday to warn there could be public health consequences if voters approve Proposition 200.
The initiative on November’s ballot calls for requiring proof of citizenship in order to vote and would require public health personnel to verify the immigration status of anyone seeking state and local public benefits “that are not federally mandated.”
The measure would require medical personnel to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Failure to do so could be punished by up to four months in jail and a fine up to $750.
“Everyone would have to have their passport ready at any (health-care) institution that uses federal dollars,” said Dr. Leonard Ditmanson, president of the Pima County Medical Society.
Ditmanson yesterday joined representatives of local hospitals and the Pima County Board of Health in condemning the measure.
Doctors would have to ask each patient to prove citizenship or be denied care, and that is not the role of a physician, he said.
The law would violate the confidential physician-patient relationship, he said.
Jack Jewett, a former state legislator who is an administrator at Tucson Medical Center, spoke for the Hospital Council of Southern Arizona, which represents 15 hospitals, in opposition to the measure.
Because the measure is vague and does not specify which “local public benefits” would be refused to illegal immigrants, the measure would face a costly legal challenge, he said.
“Illegal immigration does place a burden on health care, law enforcement and public education, but Prop. 200 would have unintended consequences, such as costly litigation,” he said. “It’s better to find real solutions to a real problem.”
Dr. Arthur Martinez, chief medical officer of El Rio Community Health Center, which serves 80,000 people, said the measure would risk the health of families served by the center’s 18 sites in the metro area.
The center treats patients no-questions-asked, and some might not have proof of U.S. citizenship. Many El Rio patients have no health insurance or access to other health care.
The Arizona Medical Association, state Department of Health Services and Pima County Board of Health also oppose the measure.
Carolyn Trowbridge, a past vice president of the Pima County Board of Health, said the measure would “damage the public health infrastructure we depend on” to prevent the outbreak of communicable disease, such as diphtheria, tuberculosis and hepatitis B.
Inoculations for those diseases are now given free, no questions asked, she said.
But Trowbridge’s argument is less than honest, says one Proposition 200 proponent.
“Immunizations, testing and treatment of symptoms for communicable diseases are already federally mandated” and would not be restricted if the proposition were passed, said Kathy McKee, chairman of Protect Arizona Now.
“Illegal aliens are provided these services without proof of eligibility. That will not change (under Proposition 200) because they’re federally mandated,” she said.
McKee also said the proposition is meant to enforce laws, not take away services from current legal recipients.
“No eligibility requirements whatsoever are going to change under Prop. 200,” she said.
McKee wondered whether opponents of Proposition 200 are “deliberately confused” about what the proposition calls for, she said.
Because it requires proof of eligibility for welfare benefits and does not require proof before receiving federally mandated safety and health services, the proposition’s opponents are using “smokescreen” tactics, McKee said.
Critics of 200 said the measure is flawed because it does not define the phrase “state and local public benefits that are not federally mandated.” They fear that the vagueness of the statement may eventually lead to a restriction of federally mandated services to illegal immigrants.
McKee said her group does not have the burden to define a “common term.”
“The (statement) is on 19 Arizona statutes right now, and some of them have been on the books for 60 years,” McKee said. “There’s no definition in any of them, so why would this be a problem now?”
Dr. Paul Horowitz, president of the Pima County Board of Health, said Proposition 200 “doesn’t solve the immigration crisis in our country. It puts others at risk” by limiting immunizations, well-baby care and other preventive public health programs to those people who rely on public health care.
Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal, Oct. 4
The Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce has joined the list of business groups opposing Proposition 200.
That ballot question looks to cut into illegal immigration into the state from Mexico by denying welfare benefits for undocumented immigrants.
It also requires state agencies to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities and for prospective voters to prove they are U.S. citizens.
Conservative backers of Prop. 200 say it is a step toward stemming the wave of illegal immigration into Arizona.
Business interests (including the Scottsdale chamber) oppose Prop. 200, contending that immigration is a federal issue and that state and local governments could be burdened by the costs of checking the citizenship and eligibility of those applying for state programs.
Business leaders also are worried that if Prop. 200 passes, it will give the impression that the state is anti-Hispanic and will hurt Arizona’s image.
Prop. 200 supporters say the state will save money by denying welfare benefits to illegals, and something needs to be done about the border situation.
The Arizona and Greater Phoenix chambers of commerce also oppose Prop. 200.
(Posted on October 6, 2004)