Massachusetts' attorney general tries to allay immigrant fears about seeking healthcare

Massachusetts’ attorney general issued guidelines on Thursday to healthcare providers who she says are concerned that patients won’t seek medical care because of their fear they could be deported under President Donald Trump’s tougher immigration policies.

Attorney General Maura Healey said in announcement it should be clear that doctors and nurses are not required to ask about a patient’s immigration status. She issued the guidelines (PDF) to answer questions raised by the White House administration’s stepped-up efforts at immigration law enforcement.

Healey said healthcare providers report that more immigrants are scared to receive medical care for themselves and their children because they worry the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could show up at doctors’ offices and deport them or request personal information. In addition, she issued guidelines for public school officials.

“Parents should never be afraid to send their children to school, and people should not be afraid to seek medical treatment for themselves or family members,” Healey said in the announcement. “With this guidance we hope to clarify the rights of healthcare providers, public school officials, patients and students who may have questions given the current climate around matters of immigration in our country.”

Under current policies, ICE does not generally conduct enforcement activities such as surveillance, interviews, searches and arrests at “sensitive locations,” which include hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics and urgent care facilities, Healey said.

The guidance makes clear that healthcare providers are not required to ask about immigration status, that they may treat anyone regardless of their status, and that emergency departments are required to provide emergency screening and stabilization services without asking about immigration or insurance status.

RELATED: Pediatricians worry about effect on kids from Trump’s immigration orders

Statistics from ICE show that immigration arrests increased 38% in the first three months of the Trump administration compared with the same period last year, according to The New York Times.

Trump has taken a hard line on immigration policies, some of which have been blocked or stalled, such as building a border wall and temporarily stopping travel from some Muslim-majority countries. He signed an executive order to stop federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities or communities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation and directed the hiring of 5,000 new border patrol agents and the tripling of the number of ICE agents.