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Roughly 150 members gathered last week at a Town Hall meeting at last week’s annual meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM). This meeting was put together by the SGIM Council to discuss member’s opinions about holding the 2011 annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, in the light of the new immigration legislation recently passed by the state.

Arizona’s new immigration law, SB-1070, dominated news headlines for about two weeks straight, at least up until the growing disaster with the Deepwater Horizon. SB-1070, the nation’s most stringent state-mandated immigration measure, was approved by the Arizona State legislature and signed by the Governor Jan Brewer. It is aimed at curbing undocumented immigrants from living and working in Arizona. The law makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and gives police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Proponents call it a necessary response to a growing crisis. Opponents call it discriminatory, leading to open harassment against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

What we learned from the SGIM town hall, and from an email to the society’s members today, is that members had diverse opinions on what to do, highlighting the complexity of this issue. Many members thought it was a good idea to boycott Arizona, despite the fact that SGIM would lose most of its $500,000 cash reserves due to contractual obligations. Many members felt SGIM should hold the meeting in Arizona as a time to “engage” the community about the issues with the new legislation. Some wanted to protest in Phoenix, wearing white coats and stethoscopes in a march to the capitol. One person suggested that we should chain ourselves to buildings and get arrested. Another person was concerned that the law was being dismissed out of hand by the society without attempting to address the underlying issues that led to the law’s passage. There were also members who commented by email who thought anything like a boycott should be abandoned as it is peripheral to the main goals of the society.

Maria Hinojosa, host of NPR’s Latino USA, recently gave an editorial that best encapsulates the complexity of these discussions:

“Now if anyone part of you thinks that this is a simple issue, we are going to ask you to rethink that view – it’s not. There is nothing simple about what is going on here. In the balance are human lives. Some will cross the Frontera tonight. Some are hiding in safe houses on their way to agricultural work in Georgia. Some are angry that they are targets of police interests. Some are angry that the police are not doing enough. Some want to the border closed down, locked like a garden gate with some inside and some outside. Some see a political struggle. Some see a human rights struggle. Some see a family issue. And some see a law enforcement issue”… “And, so we pause for a moment to say “amaze me America”.

So now I say amaze me medical societies. I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know if this is something that is even within the mission of our medical societies. I also don’t know whether any planned economic sanctions will hurt the very people it plans to protect.  I do know that it is important enough of an issue that it needs to be discussed in an open, honest, and respectful way. I also know that this is not just an issue for SGIM. Many medical societies are beginning to plan for their 2013, 2014, and 2015 annual meetings, and picking the candidate cities to hold them in. It is time these other medical societies taking a cue from SGIM by opening up the discussion.

I look forward to hearing AGS, AAHPM/HPNA, NHPCO, ASA, GSA, AMA, and AAHCP with an answer to the question: how should professional societies react to what is happening in Arizona?

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. One of the most poignant comments at the SGIM town hall meeting was from the lone physician from the state of Arizona. She said that she works with undocumented immigrants on a daily basis, and these are the taxi drivers, cooks, and bellhops who would be hurt most by boycotting Arizona.

  2. In general, I don't think that disagreement with policy necessitates action that harms the people. I do like the idea of keeping the conference in Arizona and staging passionate, well organized protests in support of and with the support of the people effected.

  3. I favor a boycott. Money is the only thing that people and politicians respond. As a point of interest it was boycotts that feuled the civil rights efforts of the 1950's and 1960's. It was the local boycot of the bus system that forced the city bus system to allow Blacks to sit anywhere on city buses. In fact in recent years it was boycotts in Arizona especially the threat by the NFL to force the issue on the King holiday.

    I am ashamed of the MLB for not proceding with a boycott. The have stood up for civil rights starting with Jackie Robinson.

    The issue with the border is 3 fold. 1. Immigration 2. Drug 3. Non National security

    Truly an imigration problem and a drug problem. The drug problem is the key. Few of those coming across are involved in drug. It my be simple but if Americans were not such drug users then there would less problems at the border. We are feuling the problem.

    As for security every one who has hurt or tried to hurt us had a legal visa at one time. We need to do a better job of screening the legal be coming.

    We need to take owership of the real issues

  4. Those of us who do not live there should think twice about what our role should be in conference decisions. The good people in Arizona are doing the best they can to serve immigrants when they need emergent care or hospitalization, jobs, or services. We don't know the financial impact this state has experienced being so close to the border, nor are we experiencing the violence that comes with those who are selling drugs. To withdraw finances by way of conferencing in this state would make it more difficult for those working in those venues to support their families, whether legal or illegal.
    Is this decision supposed to be a focus of palliative care or geriatric care?
    Think about the current political situation and indeed,many of the decisions of the past 40 years in this country. We may not have agreed with legal PAS or abortion, but we work within to still maintain the dignity of all human beings.
    Do we take our toys and go home? And tell Arizona "Take that!", or do we try to help find solutions that respect all?

  5. I wouldn't go to a meeting in Arizona. I don't want to be surrounded by all the racist sociopaths that live there.

  6. Great point Judy. The very hard thing about a boycott is that it wouldn't hurt the hotel chain or the convention center – they will get their money anyways. It will hurt the waiters, housekeepers, janitors, taxi cab drivers, etc.

    I did think it was important enough of an issue to discuss, as did the SGIM leadership. Even though we may disagree about topics like PAS, we still discuss it (there was a symposia on PAS at the annual meeting of AGS today).

    I would disagree with libhom too. This is too complex of an issue just to make a blanket statement that Arizona is racist. This type of protest will accomplish nothing, and will only increase the divide between opposing camps. What we need is open, honest discussion about the issues (immigration, cross-border crime, civil liberties, state vs federal rights). What I liked most about Maria Hinojosa's editorial is that she was able to see the strong viewpoints on all sides. We should do the same, and then decide what we want to do about it.

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