Deal: Ill Mexican Nationals Go Home

Repatriation offered to those in Denver with serious medical needs

Some illegal immigrants are wary of accepting the free trips back, fearing the care would be substandard or unreliable.

Hundreds of Mexican illegal immigrants are in Colorado not just for
work but also for free medical care they say they can’t get back
home. Now, Mexican officials have agreed to bring some home and
help them find doctors there.

But many of these illegal immigrants – including Eloina Meza, a
single mother of a disabled boy featured in the Nov. 13 Denver Post
– see little incentive to return to a country where comparable
opportunities don’t exist.

Juan Marcos Gutierrez, Mexico’s consul general in Denver, confirmed
a new deal negotiated with Dr. Patricia Gabow, chief of the Denver
Health and Hospital Authority.

Under the agreement, Denver health workers who provide kidney
dialysis to illegal immigrants are guiding those who are willing to
Mexico’s consulate in Denver.

The immigrants are told they can receive free travel home and help
finding appropriate health care – though they get no assurance it
will be free.

Mexican officials also will repatriate other illegal immigrants
with serious medical needs besides failing kidneys, Gutierrez said.
He said he didn’t know how many immigrants might qualify.

“I won’t repatriate someone with the flu or a cold,” he said.
“We are talking chronic diseases, difficult medical conditions.”

The goal, Gutierrez said, is to “give an option to our nationals.
But it is not my duty … to relieve (U.S.) hospital budgets.”

He pointed out that illegal immigrants often pay taxes that support
public health care here.

Denver health officials are prohibited by law from checking the
legal status of immigrants they serve. But records show about 1,500
emergency-room patients a year are unable to give a U.S. Social
Security number for billing purposes.

Many still seek treatment here despite a new state law that bars
hospitals from giving publicly funded, nonemergency health care to
illegal immigrants. Those immigrants now are treated as uninsured,
self-pay patients.

Gabow said several patients already have been sent to the
consulate. Six were in the process of heading home to continue
dialysis treatment in Mexico, according to Mexican officials.

Yet many illegal immigrants are reluctant to rely on Mexico’s
government, saying that Mexico’s poverty, inequality and widespread
lack of access to medical care drove many of them north in the
first place.

“(The government’s offer) is nice. I like the idea. But here, I
trust the doctors more. I trust everyone here more,” said a 32-
year-old illegal-immigrant aircraft-maintenance worker who spoke on
condition of anonymity, fearing authorities would use his name to
find him.

The worker’s 7-year-old son was born with major deformities that
blocked his breathing and required more than a dozen surgeries.

“I’d like to live in Mexico. It’s my country,” the man said. But
his son “was born here, and he gets all the medical support.”

His son now thrives at a Colorado Springs-area school. He and his
father recently visited doctors in Leon, Mexico, to investigate
possibilities for treatment.

The father said the Mexican doctor told them, “I recommend you
finish all the medical stuff in the United States. Your doctors
there know him. He’s got pretty serious problems with his jaw that
will require plastic surgery.”

In another case, a Denver-area family that includes several illegal
immigrants – and a U.S.- born 14-year-old boy with cerebral palsy
and heart trouble – initially refused to accept public benefits out
of pride. But then they saw huge bills from Denver Health for brain
scans the boy needed after seizures.

Now they rely on Medicaid to pay these bills, though the father
holds a job that has allowed them to afford a home. There’s no way
the family would return to Mexico, said Gisela, 21, the boy’s

“He’s not going to get any of the medical services he needs
there,” she said, because he lacks a Mexican birth certificate.
“And even if he was, they would not be as good as they are

The medical agreement was in the works before Eloina Meza came
forward with her story in The Post, but Mexican officials revealed
their new policy last week after learning of the plight of Meza and
her son Edgar, a U.S. citizen who suffers from Down syndrome and
congenital heart defects.

Illegally in the country for 12 years, Meza recently tried to
surrender to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at
their offices in an effort to have a judge review her case and
allow her to stay legally in Denver. The agents refused.

Charged with hunting for criminal immigrants and terrorists, they
were reluctant to divert energy to process Meza, ICE officials
said, defending a policy against accepting “walk-ins” who seek
permission to stay.

Under U.S. law, immigrants here illegally for more than 10 years
who can prove a pressing humanitarian need can be allowed to stay
in the country legally if a judge reviews their case.

Meza has stayed here to keep Edgar alive. He had a series of
surgeries, and doctors say he needs regular checkups and drugs to
survive and that returning to Mexico could threaten his life.

“We’re very interested in helping this lady,” said Jorge
Gonzalez, chief of protection services at the consulate. “If she
doesn’t have the possibility to stay, I will try to arrange medical
care in Mexico.”

Meza has agreed to meet with Mexican officials. But she wants her
lawyer, Francesca Ramos, to meet with them first. She’s resolved
that, no matter what, the fragile little boy she loves must

“Why all of a sudden does the Mexican consulate take an interest
in a case like this?” she asked. “Why didn’t they offer help to
Mexicans that are here in this situation before? I do not
understand the motive behind this meeting and do not have much