UNDOCUMENTED ALIEN EMERGENCY MEDICAL ASSISTANCE AMENDMENTS OF 2004 -- (Extensions of Remarks - May 19, 2004)
HON. MARK UDALL
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MONDAY, MAY 17, 2004
Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my opposition to H.R. 3722, the Undocumented Alien Emergency Medical Assistance Amendments of 2004.
First and foremost, I oppose the way this bill was brought to the floor. There have been no committee hearings or markups. Instead, the bill was rushed to the floor under suspension so that no amendments could be offered to. the bill. There has not been any proper debate on this piece of legislation.
Studies have estimated that there are between 8-12 million illegal immigrants in the country. Hospitals throughout the country, but particularly in border states, are overcrowded and often cannot afford to provide vital services to their patients. The Medicare bill which recently became law provided for a total of $1 billion over four years to reimburse hospital expenses incurred by providing medical services to illegal immigrants. While the Medicare bill does not mandate the use of the reimbursement program, many hospitals depend on these funds simply to remain open.
The Undocumented Alien Emergency Medical Assistance Amendments will require further paperwork to be done by doctors and nurses in hospitals who are already overworked and overburdened. These doctors and nurses are not trained to enforce immigration law and should not be expected to do so. We should not use hospitals to fight the influx of illegal immigration but rather should provide more resources to law enforcement so that they can better enforce immigration laws.
This bill also has the potential to discourage illegal immigrants from seeking treatment for life-threatening conditions.
Immigrant women who become victims of domestic violence may not seek help for fear of being deported. Pregnant women may not seek prenatal care or even go to the hospital for the birth of their children out of fear of being separated from their families and deported. It is likely that this bill will actually increase the cost of emergency services because illegal immigrants are more likely to wait until their conditions have worsened and require more expensive treatments.
Doctors and nurses create important trust-based relationships with immigrant communities which may be broken if this legislation is enacted. Discouraging immigrants from seeking medical assistance will have ill effects on our public health as well. Without proper treatment, communicable diseases such as tuberculosis are likely to spread and cause a much larger
public health hazard.
I also have many concerns about requiring doctors and nurses to ask so many questions of their patients. It is not always possible or practical to ask such questions of every patient who enters the hospital; as a result, doctors and nurses might have to pick and choose those they ask, opening themselves up for accusations of profiling and possible legal recourse. This also may slow the delivery of medical treatment, as patients will have to provide documentation of their citizenship or immigrant status.
These are just some of the concerns this bill raises, and none of them has been adequately discussed. H.R. 3722 clearly is controversial and thus deserves to be properly debated on the floor, with amendments allowed to be offered. For all the reasons I've outlined, I must vote against suspending the rule and passing this bill, and I urge my colleagues to do the same so that H.R. 3722 can be considered under normal procedures.