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The Rule

By Dr. Lucas Restrepo
. 3 Comment(s)

Earlier this year, Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce (the author of Arizona’s Immigration law) introduced a bill to the state legislature, SB 1405, which requires hospitals to report the immigration status of all patients.

This is a bad idea.

The bill failed. But Mr. Pearce is a persistent man, and so are his exotic legal concepts.

Doctors don’t need to review a passport before they see a patient. Consider a fellow citizen without papers, violently ill or injured. Do we shackle this person to the stretcher until a birth certificate is produced? And who will be held responsible when people fully entitled to healthcare receive this vulgar treatment? My guess: the hospital, the doctor, the police officer, everybody – except, of course, for Mr. Pearce, who now aspires to bring his poor judgment to the U.S. Senate. To increase our perplexity, we learn that Mr. Pearce belongs to a party that vows to check the overreach of government. Yet, here we have a legislator injecting government where it is not needed.

How cowardly is that the most vulnerable person in a society – the sick – becomes target of a witch hunt? Asking immigration officers to drag defenseless people from a hospital: is this our idea of a fair society? 

Mr. Pearce calls immigration “a Trojan horse.” Curious analogy. The raiders of Troy called strangers “barbarians.” The term was extended to strange actions, behaviors, customs, and laws.  In this sense, Mr Pearce’s ideas are not only ill-conceived, they are truly ectopic. SB 1405 would not be surprising in a police state; but, we know that laws of this kind are also possible in democracies intoxicated with self-righteousness.

Some rationalize these legislative experiments by arguing that illegal immigrants consume the nation’s health care resources; others evoke obscure prejudices. The former premise is false (immigrants are the least likely individuals to seek medical attention, even in the face of desperate illness), while the latter possibility can’t be dismissed. But the explanation seems much simpler: it’s all about money.

Imprisoning people is a business. In Arizona alone, 938.7 million dollars will be spent this year on prisons, or 10% of the state budget. Three out of thirteen prisons in Arizona are run entirely by private companies. But, unfortunately for this business model, crime rates in Arizona have declined over the last decade, and so has illegal immigration, all coinciding with the great recession. Yet the state’s prison population increased tenfold, from 3,377 inmates in June 1979 to 40,477 inmates in June 2010. Hence, new “customers” are sorely needed. The solution: create new crimes. Consequently, the prison lobby has helped fund the political campaigns of 30 out of 36 Republican state legislators. This also helps to explain why prominent local politicians blame illegal immigrants for imaginary headless corpses recovered from the desert, random automobile collisions, and even wild fires.

Civilized people abide by the words of by Rabbi Hillel the Elder. It is said that a man challenged him to explain the Torah while standing on one foot. The Rabbi replied: “what is hateful to you, don’t do it to others; the rest of the book is the explanation, go read and learn.”

The purpose of democracy is to protect the people, not to persecute them. Voting is a powerful right, but it also carries a responsibility; if misguided, it can generate injustice. Such preoccupation is best expressed in a memorable reproach: “beware of the tyranny of the majority.” This was admonished by the framers of this democracy, standing firm on both feet.  

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  1. Alfonso E. Sierra C.

    People of pearce kindship doesn't hesitate to deny basic humane and decency rights to citizens stricken by poverty, or immigrants, and the disabled and now the infirm hit by a acute condition or exacerbation of an old one, and in urgent need for medical care. What an example!

    They are not a majority, they are only vocal and look menacing and use intimidating tactics to try to scare all of us, that try by all means to avoid confrontation.

    This Country needs that all, concerned but unengaged, understand that the "future" is happening while we witness these egotistical and damaging acts of inhumanity.

    Alfonso E. Sierra C., MD
    HMS-WHO Support Programme for 3rd. World Medical Schools
  2. Joel Weddington MD

    Lucas, thank you for taking a strong and well-spoken stand on an important issue that goes beyond money, politics, or citizenship. Healthcare is a human right. Healthcare workers have a moral obligation to care for those in need. We should be leading the world in healthcare outreach, not rationing our care to the priviliged. A healthy and disease-free population can only make for a stronger society, whether immigrants or not.
  3. Ina

    What Joel said. Thank you for a blog post reminding us all that we are, first and foremost, human beings, and that our humanity is more important than this crazy us-them stuff these politicians engage in.

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