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Letter: Idea is Repugnant and Would Harm Public Health (Syracuse Post-Standard)

To the Editor:

The proposal to verify the immigration status of people seeking emergency medical treatment is morally repugnant and would harm public health.

Transforming the emergency room into an immigration enforcement bureau would discourage people from seeking life-saving medical care, endangering the well-being of immigrants and citizens alike.

This misguided proposal would also hamstring efforts to contain infectious diseases. People sick with swine flu might refuse to go the emergency room, contributing to the deadly virus’ spread.

Medical professionals acknowledge the need to treat undocumented immigrants. In fact, doctors cannot turn away people who need emergency medical attention without violating their oath to do no harm. The American Medical Association has adopted a policy opposing the criminalization of providing medical care to undocumented immigrants. We shouldn’t deputize doctors to enforce immigration laws; it’s not their job.

Putting aside practical questions, the proposal would desecrate America’s moral values. In the United States, we don’t turn away children and families who need urgent medical care. Can we truly be proud of a country where doctors withhold life-saving treatment simply because they suspect a patient is an undocumented worker? It is appalling to imagine immigration officials lording over the bedside of a critically ill little boy or girl, demanding the child’s parents produce a birth certificate.

We cannot repair our immigration system with thoughtless cruelty. This complex problem requires workable, realistic solutions that respect basic human rights.

Barrie Gewanter
Director, Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union

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