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Stories from around the region that engage and inspire.A special thank you to the City of Flagstaff BBB grant program and Flagstaff Cultural Partners for awarding KNAU $18,400 to help fund KNAU's Science and Technology Desk.

Study raises questions about Arizona immigration law and public health

By Stethoscopes

Arizona’s controversial immigration law could go into effect soon now that the Supreme Court has upheld parts of Senate Bill 1070.

And that has many undocumented immigrants in Northern Arizona feeling anxious.

But some health-care providers in Flagstaff are also worried.

They’re concerned the law could keep immigrants away from the doctor’s office and jeopardize public health.

At the North Country Health Care clinic in Flagstaff, nurse-midwife Tisha Cazel preps a patient for her pregnancy exam.

A Spanish interpreter translates for Cazel.

About 20 percent of North Country’s patients in Northern Arizona are Hispanic.

And two years ago, after state lawmakers passed SB 1070, health-care providers at the clinic say many of their Hispanic patients stayed away.

“Once we started to talk to them --  once this law was placed on hold -- they started to have trust in us and come back,” medical assistant and spanish translator Alma Moctezuma says.

“But I think it may be happening again because I haven’t seen very many and I haven’t been called to interpret very often,” she says.

Moctezuma thinks undocumented immigrants  may be staying away because of the Supreme Court’s decision in June to uphold a key part of SB 1070.

It requires police officers to check the status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

Northern Arizona University researchers shared Moctezuma’s concerns.

And they wrote an article for last month’s American Journal of Public Health asking  what health effects SB 1070 could be having.

“What does it mean when people are afraid to leave their homes, even in the absence of enforcement, because they’re afraid of getting deported or arrested?” asks Lisa Hardy, an assistant anthropology professor at Northern Arizona University and the lead author of the study.

“Is someone going to take their child to the doctor if they’re undocumented? What does it mean if someone’s not getting their HIV medication, if they’re not getting vaccinated, if they’re not playing in the parks, if they’re not going to the store to get healthy food?,” she asks.  

Hardy’s research team asked residents of Flagstaff’s Sunnyside neighborhood how SB 1070 was affecting them.

They also interviewed health care and social service providers, police officers and community leaders.

Hardy says plenty of people told researchers that SB 1070 was keeping Latinos away – from doctor’s appointments, from the pharmacy, from reporting sexual assaults to the police.

But she says, no one was willing to express their concerns on the record…

“Part of the reason we decided to write this article was because of the way the fear of what SB 1070 has done in this state has percolated out beyond just people who live here who are undocumented, but also those who are associated with them through friendships, through relationships and to the level of people who are working within the state providing services to the point that they can’t even talk about what they’ve seen for fear of losing their jobs or being stigmatized politically in this state,” she says.  

Roxana Deniz is a translator for Spanish speaking patients at North Country’s Flagstaff clinic.

She says since the Supreme Court’s decision, a sense of fear has gripped Flagstaff’s Hispanic community.

“They definitely do think twice about leaving their house at all, and that includes their visits. Not necessarily coming to the building but getting to the building, being on the road…That means they are missing vaccines, they’re missing their preventative care,” she says.

And that means they could be jeopardizing public health by spreading illnesses at school or work.

But state Senator John Kavanaugh from Fountain Hills says if undocumented immigrants are not seeking health care, that’s good news.

“That’s the purpose of SB 1070,” he says. “If the study has said that it’s doing that, that’s one more good review for SB 1070."

And if public health is jeopardized because people don’t go to the doctor?

“That’s one more reason we need to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants so they don’t do this,” he says.  

Governor Jan Brewer’s press aide, Matthew Benson, says SB 1070 does not require doctors to check patients’ immigration status and should not prevent people from going to the doctor.

“You would hope that to the extent possible, they are getting immunized so as to protect the rest of us,” he says.  

The report does not measure the impact of SB 1070 on public health, but it calls for more research to do just that.

Dr. Eric Henley is the chief medical officer at North Country and wrote the article with Hardy.

“I just think it’s something we all need to be aware of when we propose these kinds of bills that are anti-immigration – how it might affect health, both of the people who are targeted, but also for the greater community,” he says.

The reports says since the passage of SB 1070, state legislators in other states have introduced more than 1,500 bills related to immigration.

Thirty of those bills seek to limit health care benefits for undocumented residents. 

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