01/28/2013 03:34 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

Arizona Bill Would Turn Hospitals Into Immigration Checkpoints, But Exempts Canadians, Europeans (UPDATED)

An Arizona lawmaker wants to turn hospitals into immigration checkpoints -- but the law wouldn’t apply in the same way to Canadians or many Europeans.

As Republicans and Democrats come together in Washington to debate immigration reform, Rep. Steve Smith, a Republican from Maricopa County, has submitted a proposal to the state legislature that would require the uninsured to provide proof of citizenship at hospital visits.

The proposed law has drawn sharp criticism from Latino groups, who say the bill would make undocumented immigrants less likely to seek care.

“This bill would legalize harassment of immigrants and, in fact, of any woman who looks like she could be an immigrant,” Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health told The Los Angeles Times.

Smith says he filed the HB 2293 to find out how much the state pays to serve undocumented immigrants and denies that it amounts to crack down on illegal immigration.

“It’s a data collection bill, that’s what it is,” Smith said last week, according to an Arizona ABC News affiliate. “That’s it. We don’t deny anybody. They don’t come in and not get treated. Everything stays the same, we just want it documented.”

But some in the healthcare industry say the bill would disrupt their work.

"When does this begin or end?" Pete Wertheim, a spokesman for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association said, according to the Arizona Daily Star. "What other industry should be screening their customers for citizenship verification?"

Wertheim added that if people with communicable diseases were dissuaded from visiting the hospital it could cause public health problems for the state, according to Mother Jones.

The bill specifically exempts Canadians, who would only have to prove their Canadian citizenship under the bill, rather than verify their immigration status in the United States. The same rule would apply to the citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program.

The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of 37 countries -- 29 of which are European and none of which are Latin American -- to travel to the United States for up 90 days without a visa. It does not establish legal immigration status.

When asked why the bill treats people from different countries differently, Rep. Smith told The Huffington Post that the bill was not intended to "discriminate between Canadians and non-Canadians," but rather responded to difficulties hospitals in his district have getting basic information from immigrants.

"The taxpayers have a right to know where their money's going," Smith said.

"There's a lot of good relationships we have with Canada, legally, there's a lot of reciprocity," Rep. Carl Seel, one of the bill's sponsors, told CBS 5. ''If you have Canadian papers, you're deemed legal in the United States."

Seel’s statement, as quoted, isn't true. Canadians can immigrate illegally to the United States. About 4 percent of undocumented immigrants come from Canada and Europe, according to a 2010 estimate by the Pew Hispanic Center, while some 81 percent come from the countries of Latin America.

The bill doesn’t mention specific penalties, but requires hospitals to report those who cannot provide proof of citizenship to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or local police.

Arizona pioneered efforts to use state resources to crack down on illegal immigration in 2010, with the passing of SB 1070, a law that required police officers to check the immigration status of those they stop. The Supreme Court struck down some elements of the law.

This post was updated on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 at 6:40 p.m. with a comment from Rep. Steve Smith.



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