Marxavi Angel Martínez Case Illustrates Tensions Between Immigration Policy, Health Care Concerns

By Rachel Walden — August 27, 2008

Marxavi Angel Martínez is a 23-year-old library employee in North Carolina who has been arrested on charges of using a dead person’s Social Security Number. Martínez was brought to the United States legally at three years of age, but her parents overstayed their Visas. Martínez was then raised in the United States, becoming an honor student, cheerleader, library clerk, and now mother.

It’s this last item that appears to have sparked Martínez’s arrest, raising concerns about medical privacy and the potential to scare immigrants away from seeking care. Martínez, you see, received prenatal care at the Alamance County (NC) public health department. According to reports, “Alamance County Health Director Barry Bass said that during a recent State Bureau of Investigation inquiry into his health department, a judge ordered him to release the records of about five patients, one of whom was library worker Marxavi Angel Martínez.” Another source reports that “The sheriff has suggested that the librarian’s arrest was related to her care at the health department.”

Physicians and public health officials have responded to object to the chilling effect this may have on residents – legal citizens or otherwise – and their communities when seeking health care is discouraged because of fears of arrest and deportation. According to the Charlotte News & Observer, “several doctors…said that if patients become afraid to seek care, infectious diseases could spread, infant mortality could rise, and emergency costs could increase.”

Regarding privacy, one doctor interviewed for the piece explained:

“Whether you’re legal or illegal, it’s always been assumed that your medical information is private and can’t be used against you,” said Dr. Christopher Snyder III of Concord, president of the N.C. Academy of Family Physicians. “The doctor-patient relationship is sacred, and I’m not sure that has really been challenged until now. We’re in uncharted territory.”

NPR also has recent coverage of doctors’ concerns. We described another incident with similar potential effects in July, when an immigrant was stopped while driving home from a prenatal care visit in Nashville, TN. Although the officer had discretion as to whether to make an arrest, the very pregnant Juana Villegas was taken in and interrogated on her immigration status, ultimately being shackled to the bed during much of her labor and denied access a breast pump following the birth when she was returned to jail.

Related: Some librarians are also objecting to the arrest of Ms. Martínez. REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, has written a letter of protest, and addresses the use of another public service – the library:

“The manner in which she was arrested is deplorable; the place where this arrest took place is unthinkable: The Graham Public Library where she worked! The library—a traditionally safe space for the public—was transformed, in this instance, to a dangerous place where anyone can be arrested for their immigrant status.”

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