Charleston Post and Courier Examines South Carolina Law’s Effect on Immigrant Health Care
The Charleston Post and Courier on Sunday looked at how South Carolina's Illegal Immigration Reform Act has affected immigrants' health care. The law, which took effect in June, prohibits undocumented adult immigrants from receiving nonemergency medical care that is funded by the state. Prenatal care, immunizations and treatment for communicable diseases are excluded from the measure. In addition, clinics that are funded by membership dues, private donations and federal grants are not affected by the law.
The law requires that any adult seeking care at a state-funded health clinic or hospital provide an affidavit that states the individual is in the U.S. legally; however, the law does not require actual proof of citizenship. The affidavit would later be verified through the Department of Homeland Security's Systematic Alien Verification Entitlement program.
According to the Post and Courier, enforcing the law is complicated because federal law requires that all individuals receive emergency care, regardless of immigration status. Delaying care to screen an individual's legal status would be unlawful under federal rules. Further, "it might be impossible" to ensure that no state funds go toward providing care to undocumented immigrants, the Post and Courier reports. There is no agency responsible for enforcing the prohibition against the use of state funds, according to the Post and Courier.
Ultimately, "[W]hether the law has teeth or not might be irrelevant" because fear of being asked to identify themselves might "reduce the number of [undocumented] immigrants seeking health care," the Post and Courier reports. In addition, the law might result in additional spending on health care if undocumented immigrants delay seeking care until their conditions become very serious, according to the Post and Courier (Coley, Charleston Post and Courier, 6/29).