County seeks stats on noncitizens

Published 8:26 pm Friday, April 13, 2007

By Staff
Will collect health-services data ‘to legal extent possible’
News Editor
Beaufort County commissioners voted 4-2 Thursday to try to figure out how many people without U.S. citizenship use health-department services in the county.
The decision came during a discussion of the contract between the state and Beaufort County Health Department. Commissioners had to approve that contract by the end of the month or place some health-department funds in jeopardy. They tabled the contract late last month because they sought additional budget figures.
But as soon as the motion to approve it was spoken, discussion veered toward what County Manager Paul Spruill has termed “the hot-button issue” that commissioners revisit with regularity: illegal immigrants.
What he does have a problem with, Richardson has said, is illegal immigrants getting those services while U.S. taxpayers foot the bill.
The data Richardson wants are statistics that indicate how many people who are not U.S. citizens benefit from health-department services. Spruill said some of those numbers cannot be collected under the constraints of the law.
Richardson made a motion to collect data “to the legal extent possible.”
Health Director Roxanne Hollomans said that about 25 percent of the health department’s patients are Hispanic when commissioners asked her about that figure during a meeting last month. That percentage is based on to figures from the previous fiscal year. Holloman said she could not know how many of those patients were illegal immigrants because the law won’t allow public-health officials to ask someone if he or she is an illegal immigrant.
A majority of commissioners voted to seek the numbers Richardson wants. Along with Richardson, commissioners Stan Deatherage, Al Klemm and commissioners’ Chairman Jay McRoy voted for the plan. Commissioners Jerry Langley and Cayton opposed it. Commissioner Ed Booth was absent, having left the meeting earlier in the day.
Cayton said the motion posed a danger to public health and could have dire consequences.
Spruill will come back to commissioners in June with a plan for collecting the statistics, along with what kinds of data can be legally collected.