2004-08-18 / Features

Crowley Condemns Fed Reg

Linking Immigrants To Hospital Care
by john toscano

A recent rule change by the federal Department of Health and Human Services requiring hospitals to ask the immigration status of patients was blasted last week by Congressmember Joseph Crowley.

The lawmaker said the new regulation would lead illegal immigrants to avoid medical care in emergency situations, harming not only themselves but also the rest of the community. Speaking of the immigrants, Crowley warned, "Their health directly affects the entire population." As an example, he pointed out that last year, 53 percent of all tuberculosis cases in the U.S. were found in people who were foreign-born. Tuberculosis can be resistant to a wide variety of antibiotics, and is highly contagious, especially when people live in crowded conditions.

Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx), a member of the House Democratic leadership, led Democrats in opposing similar legislation last May. He said the blocked legislation was the model for these new regulations promulgated by HHS.

At a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital Center last May, Crowley was joined by local officials and immigrant advocates in condemning the legislation to link medical care to immigrant status.

"This is nothing more than another attempt by the Bush Administration to extend the arm of the law into hospital emergency rooms to scare unadjusted aliens from receiving health care services," Crowley said.

"By making doctors and nurses immigration agents, the federal government will strike fear in hard-working immigrants. Instead of using health care to prevent communicable diseases, STDs and make safer childbirth more accessible, the federal government is adding yet another barrier to quality of care. This is not the compassion President [George W.] Bush ran on four years ago."

The new regulations also threaten federal funding to provide healthcare services to immigrants in local hospitals, Crowley pointed out. He said New York state will be receiving $12 million in additional funds for this purpose, but to receive the money, hospitals will have to ask immigrants: "Are you a United States citizen? Are you a lawful permanent resident, an alien with a valid current employment authorization card or other qualified alien? Are you in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa? Are you a foreign citizen who has been admitted to the U.S. with a 72-hour border crossing card?"

Crowley said these questions and the HHS regulation had been assailed by lawyers who question whether it violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 1964 law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs that receive federal aid.

Crowley declared: "This regulation violates the rights of Latinos and Asians. It is not only the right but also the responsibility of our hospitals to provide treatment to everyone, regardless of their status or their right to pay. By tracking who is and who is not a legal citizen, hospitals are being put in the middle. For many immigrants who may not have legal status, a regulation like this can prevent them from receiving care."

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