Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Medical privacy should extend to illegal immigrants

The News & Observer has a story this morning about an illegal immigrant in nearby Alamance County who was arrested after using the county's public health clinic.

In what is becoming a favorite tactic of immigration enforcement, the woman was charged with four federal felonies related to her use of false documents. While law enforcement officials are fond of saying that they only pursue illegal immigrants who commit or are suspected of committing crimes, the documentation statutes mean that nearly all working immigrants fall into this category.

What is more alarming in this case, however, is that the information that was used to pursue the immigrant appears to have come from the health department itself. The health department is being investigated for providing notes and other documents for illegal immigrants that use the immigrants' assumed identities instead of their true identities. It appears that the arrested immigrant's name came up in that investigation.

While immigration extremists advocate a scorched earth policy of making every institution in the U.S. as inhospitable to illegal immigrants as possible, there are good reasons for maintaining confidentiality when receiving health services or reporting crimes. In the case of health clinics, the community has a vested interest in all residents getting treatment and in the health department being able to track diseases. The risks of highly communicable diseases like TB, meningitis, or severe flu spreading through a community are too high. In this particular case, the immigrant is the parent of a U.S. citizen, so there is an additional interest in that child being able to get treatment.

Sometimes officials need to look the other way for the greater good. The arrest in Alamance County appears to be especially short-sighted.