Georgia immigration law slows admissions of healthcare workers

Nov 14, 2012— — A new immigration law in Georgia requires all healthcare workers, regardless of where they were born, to provide proof of citizenship or legal residency when renewing a work permit. Georgia’s Secretary of State handles the licensing of nurses, pharmacists, and veterinarians, while its Medical Board issues licenses for physicians, physician assistants, and acupuncturists. According to National Public Radio, workers in both offices were inundated with paperwork. As a result, licenses for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others have expired.

The passage of the new law also coincided with budget cuts that reduced the Secretary of State’s staff by 40 percent, compounding the problem.

Donald Palmisano Jr., the executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia, told NPR that the law doesn’t address a real problem.

“We are not aware of any undocumented immigrants who are doctors,” he said.

The state also does not check whether the submitted documents are genuine, i.e. someone could successfully submit forged papers.

“It’s absolutely the wrong time to put a strain on filling crucial careers like nurses and doctors,” Katie O’Connor, attorney for civil rights group Advancement Project, told ABC/Univision News. “This random, ad hoc approach…really does a lot more harm than good.”

Both O’Connor and Palmisano Jr. call it a solution in search of a “problem that doesn’t exist”.

“It’s similar to many laws that purport to target or isolate undocumented immigrants,” said Tanya Broder, senior attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “But often they are in places where undocumented immigrants have no right at all.”

Broder said she hasn’t heard of undocumented immigrants trying to practice medicine, noting that Georgia has significantly fewer undocumented immigrants than other states like California or Texas.

DA King, who helped write the law, told NPR although he thinks it needs some tweaking. Chris Perlera, a spokesman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp, told ABC/Univision News one option is to only require proof of citizenship or legal residency for those applying for a license for the first time, reducing the workload for the Office staff in processing would reduce the number of applications and renewals.

State lawmakers attempted to make that adjustment earlier this year, but efforts in the House of Representatives have stalled.

“I think that’s better than nothing,” O’Connor said, “but it’s still a liability.”