February 18, 2021

A bill to end hospital discrimination against immigrants heads to House floor

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A bill that would end hospital discrimination based on immigration status advanced Wednesday when it passed unanimously in the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee.

HB 112 would enable all counties and hospitals in the state that offer indigent care to extend that program to all migrants, regardless of their legal immigration status. Bill sponsor Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said during the committee hearing that most New Mexico counties and hospitals are already providing indigent care to people regardless of immigration status.

But, because of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA), passed in 1996 by the U.S. Congress, there are a few counties and hospitals that take a “narrow view” of that law and “discriminate against people who are noncitizens,” Martinez said.

According to the Fiscal Impact Report, the PRWORA allows indigent funds to be used only for certain indigent people, but generally not to many classes of immigrants. Martinez said those discriminated against includes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, as well as other migrants.

But, a provision in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act states that a state can provide all immigrants with indigent and other assistance programs if a state law “affirmatively provides for such eligibility,” according to the Fiscal Impact Report.

That is what HB 112 would do.

An immigrant woman had trouble getting a necessary Cesarean section because of her immigration status in southern New Mexico, according to expert witness Sireesha Manne, executive director for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. That was one example among many provided during testimony of how such discrimination can negatively impact migrants.

Indigent care programs are funded by property taxes and gross receipts taxes, Nicolas Cordova, staff attorney for the Center on Law and Poverty, said during expert witness testimony. Martinez said the bill does not ask for any additional funds from the state or counties.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said that as a former county commissioner, he was surprised this was needed.

“But if we need it, we need it,” he said.

The bill heads to the full House of Representatives next.