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On Immigration Status, Caregivers Don’t Care

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Among the many tragedies born of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, which killed 22 and injured another two dozen, was the news that some victims might not have sought care at hospitals because of their immigration status.

This fear was so widespread that the West Texas wing of U.S. Customs and Border Protection tweeted: “We are not conducting enforcement operations at area hospitals, the family reunification center or shelters.”

For nurses, doctors, and others who are called to heal wounds and save lives, it’s gut-wrenching to hear that some who might have been saved missed that chance – not because of a lack of caregivers or shortage of hospitals, but simply out of fear that victims didn’t have the right paperwork.

California’s hospitals want all of our state’s residents – regardless of their immigration status – to know that they should feel safe seeking care. Hospitals will always remain havens for those who need our help.

Today, the potential for more anxiety lingers. The federal government continues to mull the proposed “public charge” rule, which would expand the criteria to deny people U.S. entry or adjustment to their legal permanent resident status. By adding health care, nutrition, and housing programs to the list of reasons for deniability, the fear that drove some in El Paso to avoid care could spread much further.

This is bad health policy — forgoing care can exacerbate medical conditions, leading to sicker patients and a higher reliance on hospital emergency departments. And it jeopardizes access to health services for millions of legal immigrants across the country, including children, seniors, the disabled, and those with chronic conditions.

This is why California’s hospitals, the backbone of our state’s health safety net, have urged the Trump Administration to withdraw the proposed rule. We hope that will be the case.

No matter the outcome of that decision, hospitals’ commitment to patients, to the communities we serve, and to any and all who need help is built upon a special trust bestowed upon us to spread hope, not fear. That is, and will remain, our pledge to all Californians.

— Carmela