Doctors and Immigration Officials Come into Conflict

Credit: Milkos

(Español) Doctors across the southern border region of the U.S. have come into conflict with immigration officials in regards to their duties and the wishes of immigration agents. There have been numerous reports by varying doctors who treat migrants that they have come to butt heads with officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and  Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Regulations by government officials have specific guidelines when dealing with migrants who have to be hospitalized after crossing the border and coming into the custody of immigration agencies. Most of the time, the guidelines require an immigration officer be in the presence of the immigrant at all times since they are considered detainees. This includes during any medical exams or consultations between the migrants and doctors, which many health professionals see as a breach of privacy and doctor-patient confidentiality. To go along with the federal regulations that govern the immigration officers, hospitals and health organizations also have their own set of rules to follow and they typically fall in line with governmental regulations, much to the chagrin of individual doctors. Doctors have reported cases in which immigration officials have been in the room while giving a medical briefing to their patient and noting that it seemed the officers were texting sensitive and private information to someone. Another notes an officer was present in the room while a teenage mother was breastfeeding her baby, only leaving when a senior hospital official persuaded him to leave. At worst, immigration officers have begun arresting certain undocumented immigrants in hospitals; places previously deemed “sensitive locations” where immigration officials were not to detain anyone. That has since changed as those incidents have been rising.

Once a migrant has been released from the care of the hospital, immigration officials ask the physician to write a letter certifying the migrant is healthy enough for release and detention in immigration detention facilities; places where even immigration officials admit are not sanitary places, much less for those recently released from medical care. Recently, a doctor in Texas found a way around the language the officers needed, by noting the certification of healthy release does not indicate they are healthy enough to be detained in a detention center. Upon handing in the letter, the doctor noted he felt bullied by an immigration supervisor into resubmitting the letter with the language they needed.