Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Doctors Fear Impact of Immigrant Woman's Arrest

According to NPR, not long after 23-year-old library clerk Marjavi Angel-Martinez sought prenatal care in a North Carolina hospital, immigration officers found her at her job and questioned her about her legal status in the USA. The process to deport Marjavi has now begun, and South Carolina doctors fear that hospital records are being collected by law enforcement agents in an effort to find and deport immigrants. As Latino advocate Jose Alegría explaines the case, "Its a fact that she received medical care during her pregnancy, that is a fact. It is a fact that she was using someone else's social security number, yes." Yet, although Marjavi has pled guilty to misuse of a social security number, her arrest has dangerous implications for everyone living in the United States.

Peter Morris, medical director of one of South Carolina's largest networks of clinics, explains that all of society is impacted if members of a population are forced to avoid hospitals. If someone who has an infectious disease fears going to the hospital to seek help, for example, the entire community is put at risk. "If people come to our offices afraid that, if they tell us something, that information could be used against them ... that's something we all should fear."

Marjavi 's arrest came after Sheriff Terry Johnson promised to crack-down on immigrants, who he claims are a tax on Alamance County's resources. County leaders have also recently called for an investigation of the county's medical system. While it is legal for officials to request medical records as part of a health-care investigation, Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum explains:
What is rare here is to have information used to deport someone. What you don't want to have is a system in which someone goes to a public health clinic and then that is used [to punish her] - you don't want that.
Marjavi came to the States legally as a toddler, and she and her family have been living here since, even though their visas have expired. In the days since Marjavi Angel-Martinez was charged, her husband and family have also been arrested and face deportation too. The NPR story does not mention what will happen to Marjavi 's baby, who will be a legal US citizen if born here.

This story comes on the same day that the New York Times, in a piece about an immigration raid in Mississippi, reminds us of "a significant escalation of the Bush administration’s enforcement practices" in which those detained are not only being deported, but also "...imprisoned for months on criminal charges of using false documents." So it is quite possible that Marjavi, young and pregnant, will be separated from her family for quite some time before being deported.

Miriam of Feministing points to A Book Without a Cover as a site that helps citizens take action in the face of overly aggressive immigration raids. But I also think that Sheriff Terry Johnson might appreciate a letter letting him know that US citizens do not want to live in a society where our health is put at risk by a willingness to turn hospitals into branches of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

(Image via)


frau sally benz said...

This story makes me very sad. Isn't what they're doing illegal?! Something inside me tells me it must be. Of course, that won't stop them.

I suppose this is just another layer of fear/distrust that will be added to the medical field that we were discussing.

Habladora said...

Even worse, sometimes hospitals deport seriously ill patients, as the NYT reports:

"Many American hospitals are taking it upon themselves to repatriate seriously injured or ill immigrants because they cannot find nursing homes willing to accept them without insurance. Medicaid does not cover long-term care for illegal immigrants, or for newly arrived legal immigrants, creating a quandary for hospitals, which are obligated by federal regulation to arrange post-hospital care for patients who need it."

When I was working with students who were nervous about their status here, I used to tell them that if they or someone in their family was sick, go to the hospital for help. I believed that there would never be any legal repercussions. I'd still tell them to go, but I'd no longer tell them that it isn't dangerous. We're putting people in a terrible spot here of needing to decide if a family member is 'sick enough' to risk the whole family's deportation - and potential incarceration under the Bush administration's new policies. Fear of medical treatment puts us all at risk, and the fact that we're forcing people into these situations is shameful.