Doctor criticizes Arizona immigration law

Demonstrators protest against Arizona's controversial immigration law in front of the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, May 29, 2010. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Arizona’s controversial new law cracking down on illegal immigration could put doctors into a pickle, an Arizona physician said in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday.

Dr. Lucas Restrepo of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix said because it specifies that anyone who “harbors” an illegal immigrant can be fined, it could affect medical personnel.

“The new Arizona state immigration bill signed into law on April 23 will seriously obstruct, if not undermine, the practice of medicine in the state of Arizona,” Restrepo wrote.

“One interpretation is that health care providers in Arizona will need to ask for a passport before seeing certain patients,” he said.

The bill, passed by Republicans in Arizona’s state legislature, becomes law on July 29, subject to legal challenges. It seeks to push illegal immigrants from the border state, a major corridor for migrants and drug smugglers crossing from Mexico.

“This bill threatens one of the oldest traditions of medicine: physicians shall protect patients regardless of nationality or race. This legislation, if unchallenged, will force health care providers to choose between the dignity of their profession and the indignity of violating the law,” Restrepo wrote.

Opponents say the law is unconstitutional and will lead to racial profiling of Hispanics, who make up about a third of Arizona’s population. Roughly 11 million people are thought to be living in the United States illegally.

Editing by Xavier Briand