Georgia Immigration Law Trips Up Doctors And Nurses | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Georgia Immigration Law Trips Up Doctors And Nurses

Play associated audio

Hundreds of health care workers in Georgia are losing their licenses to practice because of a problem created by a new immigration law in the state.

The law requires everyone — no matter where they were born — to prove their citizenship or legal residency to renew their professional licenses.

With too few state workers to process the extra paperwork, licenses for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals are expiring.

Lisa Durden with the secretary of state's office says renewing a license used to be a straightforward process and most applications whizzed through. Now, they crawl.

Enactment of the law coincided with budget cuts that reduced the office staff by 40 percent.

Kelly Farr, Georgia's deputy secretary of state, says 600 nurses alone have fallen through the cracks. "There's nothing more frustrating than getting that call from the desperate nurse, knowing ... she's being slowed down because we literally don't have enough people to click the approve button," Farr said.

While the secretary of state handles licensing of nurses, pharmacists, and veterinarians, Georgia's medical board is in charge of doctors, physician assistants and even acupuncturists. It's the same story there.

Director LaSharn Hughes says she sent 41,000 letters of notification out on a recent Thursday. "And by Monday, we'd burned up a fax machine," Hughes said. "We didn't have the staff. We didn't have the equipment."

Phones go unanswered. Paperwork piles up. And processing delays, coupled with confusion over the new rules, mean lots of expired licenses.

Hughes estimates about 1,300 doctors and other medical practitioners have lost their legal ability to work. Some didn't submit the required paperwork. Others are stuck in the backlog of applications that haven't been processed yet.

Donald Palmisano Jr. executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia, says the law fixes a problem that never existed — at least not among doctors. "We're not aware of any undocumented immigrants that are physicians," Palmisano said.

Even D.A. King, an outspoken activist and critic of illegal immigration who helped write the law, agrees. King says the law protects Georgia jobs, but even he believes some parts of the legislation need fixing. A bill that addressed some of the law's shortcomings died in the last legislative session.

"I am not only outraged, but sincerely disappointed and puzzled that our repair legislation was not allowed a vote," King says.

Legislative sponsors of the law didn't respond to interview requests. Neither did Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

For now, state licensing offices will keep plowing through the mail containing copies of passports and birth certificates, then checking them against a list of acceptable documents.

But that's where the vetting ends, confirms Kelly Farr and Lisa Durden of the secretary of state's office. The law says nothing about making sure the documents are genuine. "We really don't have a way to do that," says Durden.

State officials say the new document requirements haven't uncovered any undocumented immigrants.

Instead, officials say they hope the process itself may discourage people in the country illegally from trying to get licenses in the first place.

This story is part of a partnership with NPR, WABE, and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2012 WABE-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wabe.org/.

NPR

Cumberbatch Wants Britain To Pardon Men Convicted Under Anti-Gay Law

The Oscar-nominated star of the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game has joined actor and comedian Stephen Fry in calling for a blanket pardon of 49,000 men punished under long-defunct law.
NPR

Shake Shack Sizzles With IPO As McDonald's Fizzles

Shares of the burger chain shot up Friday, its first trading day. Shake Shack and other fast-casual joints are taking a bite out of McDonald's, which can't recast itself to fit the current trend.
NPR

What Romney's Retreat Means For GOP Hopefuls

NPR's Scott Simon speaks with senior Washington editor Ron Elving about the narrowing Republican presidential field for 2016 and what we've seen so far in the first month of the new Congress.
NPR

The Infinite Whiteness Of Public Radio Voices

The hashtag #publicradiovoices, about the "whiteness" of public radio, trended on Twitter this week. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Gene Demby of NPR's Code Switch team about the conversation.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.