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The arrest of a library clerk in Alamance County, North Carolina highlights two competing values. One is to enforce immigration laws. The other is to provide health care to those who need it.
The 23-year-old was picked up after seeking medical care, and that's why the case raised fears that officials may be using health records to find and deport illegal immigrants. North Carolina Public Radio's Jessica Jones reports.
JESSICA JONES: It's a hot summer night, and dozens of people have formed a circle outside the Alamance County Commission Office.
Mr. RICHARD McBRIDE (Chaplain, Elon University): Come join us. Let's get close enough so that we can hear each other.
JONES: Elon University's chaplain, Richard McBride, leads the group. One by one, they step to the center to speak, including Irena Godinez(ph).
Ms. IRENA GODINEZ: I'm thinking of my family, who had to escape Mexico because there was no opportunity for prosperity, and are now afraid to leave their house.
JONES: The group organized the vigil to protest the arrest of Marxavi Angel Martinez. She came to the U.S. Mexico legally as a toddler with her parents, but they broke the law when they overstayed their visas. Jose Allegria(ph) is a Latino advocate in the county. He says immigration agents arrested Martinez at her job at the library.
Mr. JOSE ALLEGRIA (Latino Advocate, Alamance County, North Carolina): In fact, she's received medical care during her pregnancy. That is a fact. It is a fact that she was using someone else's Social Security number, yes.
JONES: Martinez pleaded guilty to misuse of a Social Security number, and is now in deportation proceedings. She wants to stay in the United States and will fight the charges. Her arrest came after some county leaders called for an investigation of the health department. They said illegal immigrants were draining the department's resources.
Ms. PAM DIXON (Executive Director, World Privacy Forum): What is rare here is to then have information used to deport someone.
JONES: Pam Dixon is the executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a non-profit group that researches privacy issues. She says it is legal for law-enforcement officials to request health records as part of a health-care investigation. But, Dixon says, using those records to make an arrest outside that realm is scary.
Ms. DIXON: What you don't want to have is a system in which someone goes to a public health clinic, and then that is used as a treasure trove of subpoena (unintelligible). You do not want that.
JONES: Local officials won't say whether Martinez's health records led to her arrest, but a federal program called 287G allows local authorities to begin the deportation process.
At a recent county commissioner's meeting, Sheriff Terry Johnson told a crowded room he won't turn his back on violations of the law like identity theft.
Sheriff TERRY JOHNSON (Alamance Count, North Carolina): And folks, I'm going to tell you something. I will not do it. I have not done it, and I'm not going to do it. If you want to come here illegally and live in this country, do not violate any laws.
JONES: After the meeting, Alamance County health director Barry Bass said he hasn't seen a decrease in patient visits, but he wouldn't say whether the move has discouraged immigrants to seek health care.
Mr. BARRY BASS (Health Director, Alamance County, North Carolina): Everybody has to make a decision for themselves if they're comfortable receiving services.
JONES: What's happening in Alamance County worries doctors. Peter Morris is the medical director of one of North Carolina's largest network of clinics in Raleigh. He says if someone has an infectious disease and is scared to see a doctor, that affects everyone in the community.
Mr. PETER MORRIS (Medical Director, North Carolina): If people come to our offices afraid that if they tell us something that that information could be used against them, I think it will chill the relationship in the doctor's office. And that's something we all should fear.
JONES: Since charges were filed against Marxavi Angel Martinez, immigration authorities have also arrested her parents and her husband. They're facing deportation, too. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham, North Carolina.
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