AMA Takes Stance Against Immigration Officials in Medical Facilities

The American Medical Association’s formal position comes in direct response to a case in which a 10-year-old girl was detained after getting emergency surgery at a Texas hospital.

Last month, the tale of a 10-year-old girl who needed emergency surgery became a key battlefront on the immigration issue.

When Rosa Maria Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant who has cerebral palsy, was stopped at a checkpoint on her way to have the surgery at a Corpus Christi, Texas, hospital, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents took her into custody. Authorities initially refused to release her to her parents after the procedure, prompting a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Once at the hospital, armed male agents followed Rosa Maria’s every move, including staying in the room while nurses checked her weight and vital signs,” the ACLU wrote of the situation on its website last month. “They stood outside the open door while Rosa Maria waited to be taken into the operating room. After she woke up, technically discharged by the hospital but still resting in her bed, they arrested her.”

Eventually, she was released to her parents, but the situation raised concerns in the medical world.

At it’s 2017 interim meeting earlier this week, the American Medical Association House of Delegates adopted a formal policy position opposing the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in healthcare facilities, noting that ICE policy bars enforcement in such facilities already.

“Our patients should not fear that entering a hospital will result in arrests or deportation. In medical facilities, patients and families should be focused on recovery and their health, not the ramifications of their immigration status,” AMA Immediate Past President Andrew W. Gurman, M.D., said in a news release.

The move follows adoption of several policies on immigrant and refugee health at the AMA annual meeting last summer, in which the association said detention, separation of family members, and substandard care in detention facilities posed health risks to refugees and immigrants.

This week’s announcement was generally supported, though some physicians suggested that more aggressive steps would be welcomed.

“I think we need more proactive guidance from the AMA about what to do when ICE comes into the clinic, but also how are we going to bring immigrant patients back into the clinic—people who are currently afraid to seek necessary medical care, which endangers them, their families, and their entire community,” Dr. Elisabeth Poorman of the Cambridge Health Alliance told WBUR radio this week.

(VallarieE/iStock Unlisted/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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