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Healthcare and Illegal Immigration



     Linda Nyquist describes her professional dilemma:
     For the past several years, I have been called as an "expert witness" on immigration cases here in Seattle for persons trying to stay in the US on medical grounds. The delivery of health care in Mexico is my special area of study, and one on which I have concentrated for about 20 years. That said, I have extremely mixed feelings about testifying in these cases. My friends in Mexico are in the medical community; they are physicians and researchers. It strikes me as somewhat disloyal to use information I learn in my studies there to suggest that persons here illegally cannot get adequate care there. Actually, very sophisticated care is available; the issue is socioeconomic and access.
     Each time I initially tell the lawyer for the defendent (the immigrant) that I really do not want to participate. Then I am told that the government's case against the person is based on the fact that the US government has been assured by Mexican authorities, or by the US Embassy in Mexico, that the person will receive all the health care he needs, at no cost, in Mexico. There is a provision in US immigration law not to deport persons if it will create "undue hardship," such as medical need.
     This position always forces me to testify. The last case was a person in renal failure who required dialysis and would be deported to a village in San Luis Potosi. Even in the capital city of SLP, the only dialysis unit I could find was privately owned. The Salubridad Hospital did not have such a unit. The Mexican authorities had apparently said that any patient needing this service would be sent to Mexico City. This is totally unrealistic, and I cannot imagine that this would happen. A priest in Texas sued the INS a few years ago because a woman with end-stage renal disease was deported, with the assurance that she would receive the dialysis she needed in Mexico City; within 1 month she was dead. She had no money to pay for treatment, and even Salubridad isn't free.
     Another recent case involved a boy with hemophelia. INS said that this boy could get the Factor H he needed in Mexico. Factor H is extremely expensive and impossible to get in rural areas. A hematologist friend in Oaxaca tells me that 90% of his hemophelia patients die because they cannot get the clotting factor.
     My comment: Linda, who sympathizes with the sick immigrants, rightly feels that the US government should not place her in the position of seemingly encouraging Mexicans to come illegally to the United States to get free medical treatment.
     There are all kinds of abuses. I once hired a young Mexican who, it turned out, had entered this country illegally and then won the immigration lottery. He became flush with money which must have come from drug smuggling. Without warning he left, not having done work for which I had already paid him. Meanwhile, he had brought his mother here for free medical treatment. She left as soon as it was completed.
     There are genuine hardship cases, but the US government must enforce the immigration law. Linda agrees that we should take care of our own sick, many of whom are desperate.

Ronald Hilton - 08/07/99


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