Arizona Sheriff Weighs in on Hospital Immigration Checks Debate

Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio (File Photo)

Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio (File Photo)

As debate intensifies over a new Arizona proposal requiring hospital patrons to show proof of legal U.S. residency, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says the controversial measure is just one piece of a larger effort to curb illegal immigration.

"These admission medical facilities are being flooded with people, and the public here is outraged that they have to wait in the back of the line, insurance rates go up-they want something done about it, and that's just one piece of the puzzle," Arpaio said on America's News HQ Sunday.

"What's wrong with asking for someone's identification?" Arpaio asked. "I don't see any problem to see if someone's here legally or illegally."

Others do. Dr. George Pauk, former co-chair of the Arizona Coalition for a State and National Health Plan, said the state measure not only addresses a nonissue, but it also adds an unnecessary burden on health workers.

"It'd be a disaster for the people of Arizona to enact [this bill]," Pauk said. "It would criminalize health care workers like nurses, doctors--make them work as immigration officers to investigate patients and to report them to immigration authorities. It is completely unethical for us to do that."

"Immigrants use health care less than half as much as the average person in the United States; they actually cost us much less than do ordinary citizens," Pauk added.

Arizona Senate Bill 1405 would require hospital personnel to confirm that a patient is a citizen or legal resident of the U.S. before admitting that person. If not, personnel would have to contact immigration authorities to report that individual.

The bill permits hospitals to treat illegal immigrants who seek emergency room services as provided by federal law, but would require hospital employees to report those persons after successful care.

Arpaio, known for his successful yet controversial illegal immigration sweeps, admitted there are problems with the law, but said it will at least prompt discussion about a serious issue.

"We have a big problem in Arizona with illegal immigration. Thousands are coming through our area into other areas in the United States, so it is a big problem, and we're taking it on full force," Arpaio said.