Health officer: illegal Hispanic immigrants raise health problems
The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The state health officer told members of a new state task force Wednesday that the rising number of Hispanic immigrants in Alabama are bringing with them additional cases of communicable diseases like tuberculosis and chicken pox.
Dr. Don Williamson said in 2006 there were 53 cases of tuberculosis reported in Alabama in people who were born in other countries, about half in immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala.
But Williamson cautioned members of the Joint Patriotic Immigration Commission that tougher rules against illegal immigration might cause sick people to be afraid to seek treatment.
"Avoid erecting barriers that would prevent people from seeking services. We have to get the TB diagnosis early," Williamson said.
Williamson was among several state officials to speak Wednesday to the task force, formed by the Legislature to study the effects of illegal immigration on Alabama and to come up with suggestions for dealing with the problem. Committee members were appointed by Republican Gov. Bob Riley, House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia and Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., a Democrat.
Last week, Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham accused Riley of appointing campaign contributors and representatives of industries that hire illegal immigrants to the commission.
Several legislators on the commission, both Republicans and Democrats, have also said they feared the commission membership was controlled by people who wanted to maintain the status quo.
But after Wednesday's meeting, commission members said they felt the panel could accomplish its mission of making recommendations to legislators by the third day of the 2008 regular session, which begins Feb. 5.
"I think definitely we had some people on here who have a personal interest in maintaining the status quo," said Rep. Mickey Hammon, R-Decatur. But he said he feels the lawmakers on the commission will make sure that the commission takes a thorough look at the issue.
One commission member, Blount County poultry farmer Dennis Maze, said he thought the criticism of the panel's makeup was unfair.
"We're on a fact finding mission. We were shot out of the saddle before we got started. Let's get all the facts and see what direction the committee wants to go," Maze said.
The commission chairman, Jay Reed, vice president of Alabama Associated Builders and Contractors, said the panel will hold a public hearing on Oct. 31 in Montgomery to hear ideas from the public. He said he thought Wednesday's meeting showed the panel is working together well.
He said he thought all committee members had similar goals.
"They want Alabama to be safe, they don't want our health care system burdened, they want everyone to pay taxes and they want a path for hiring legal workers," Reed said.
Williamson told committee members that he believes immigrants have contributed to a slight rise in the state's infant mortality rate over the past two years, saying legal and illegal immigrants often do not receive proper prenatal care. But again Williamson cautioned against the government establishing rules that would discourage pregnant women from seeking care at state clinics.
Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, asked Williamson if it would not reduce health care costs if there were fewer illegal immigrants.
"My responsibility is to do my best to insure whoever is here will be as healthy as possible," Williamson said.
Panel members received one recommendation for possible legislation Wednesday.
Haran Lowe, an assistant attorney general who serves as an attorney for the Department of Public Safety, suggested a law that would require law enforcement officers to arrest motorists who do not have driver's license. He said those arrested would be fingerprinted, which would give law enforcement officers a record of people without documentation. He said law enforcement officials are currently not sure what to do with people who may be illegal immigrants.
(Here's a thought, deport them in accordance with UNITED STATES LAW)
"It's frustration. They don't know what they can do and can't do," Lowe said.
Assistant state schools superintendent Craig Pouncey told committee members there are about 18,000 students in state schools who do not speak English or for whom English is a second language. He said it costs the state almost $3,100 extra a year to educate each of these students.