Massachusetts tries to allay immigrant concerns about healthcare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Massachusetts attorney general issued guidelines on Thursday to healthcare providers to help allay concerns among patients who fear they could be deported or arrested while seeking medical services as U.S. President Donald Trump steps up immigration enforcement.

FILE PHOTO: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey speaks during news conference in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

Healthcare providers are reporting that more immigrants are scared to receive medical care because they fear the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency(ICE) could show up at doctor’s offices and conduct deportation or request personal information, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said.

“This administration has sought to create a lot of fear and anxiety in immigrant communities to the point where they’ve stoked fears that taking your child to the doctor or school could result in deportation,” Healey said in an interview.

Healey also issued guidance to local public school districts about how a school should respond if ICE requests access to interview or take custody of a student, and what information schools should not collect and maintain.

She did not have data on how widespread either issue is but said anecdotally she has heard from healthcare providers and schools that more immigrants were afraid that receiving medical care or going to school could result in deportation or adversely impact their immigration status.

The guidance came as Democratic attorneys general and U.S. courts have impeded several of Trump’s immigration policies.

A judge in April blocked Trump’s executive order that sought to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities, which offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Two federal judges also suspended Trump’s executive orders restricting travel from several Muslim-majority countries.

Some fear has been caused by press reports of potential executive orders, Healey said, including one that would seek to keep out immigrants likely to use a certain amount of government assistance but that policy has not been signed into law.

The guidance for healthcare providers answers a list of questions, including whether healthcare providers are required to verify their patients’ immigration or citizenship status and what protections are in place for patients who seek medical care.

While other states have not yet issued similar guidance, Healey said she has been in contact with other attorneys general on Trump’s immigration policies and the impact they are having on state residents.

“We all have immigrants in our states and we have seen the real fear these policies have engendered,” Healey said.

Reporting By Yasmeen Abutaleb