9 On Your Side Immigration Watch
Medical deportation? 9OYS finds Jesus Cornelio's plight is not unique
Reporter: Steve Nuñez
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The story of the unconscious and uninsured Mexican immigrant who's on life support in a Phoenix hospital has sparked heated debate over three of the most controversial issues: immigration, life or death and cost-shifting to pay for an immigrants health care.
9 On Your Side has learned some hospitals have found a little publicized solution to the problem of uninsured immigrants needing expensive medical care: medical repatriation, or "medical deportation" as critics and hospitals alike sometimes call it.
So just how prevalent are they? The overall number of medical deportations are difficult to track because immigration authorities do not play a role in the process.
But immigrant rights groups claim hospitals are sending uninsured patients back to Mexico at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile, 23-year old Jesus Cornelio remains on life support. His wife Evelyn claims he can move his arms and legs and respond to verbal commands by blinking his eyes.
Still, she claims the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center wants him gone.
"So I guess they're just worried about who's going to pay for all these expenses," said Cornelio.
Overall, Evelyn claims Jesus has incurred $120,000 in medical expenses.
Cornelio said, "We have to pay them back."
But Jesus, who is in the country legally, does not have insurance.
Evelyn claims she has two options: pull the plug and let him die or the hospital will deport him.
Up to this point, Good Samaritan has declined comment due to patient confidentiality laws.
The two largest hospitals in Tucson, Tucson Medical Center and University Medical Center, both confirmed to 9 On Your Side that they often deport patients on their own.
TMC could not give us exact numbers.
However, UMC said it arranges 12-15 transfers per year. The hospital passed on giving us an on-camera interview.
But a spokesperson said it only deports patients who are stable and with written consent from a family member.
Jennifer Allen, Executive Director of Border Action, an immigrant rights group, describes medical deportations as patient dumping. She said most transfers involve life or death patients who are transported hundreds of miles by ambulance.
"It's a guaranteed death sentence," said Allen.
Allen said the practice, which is happening at an alarming rate, opens the floodgates for hospitals to then target other critical care patients after immigrants are weeded out of the system.
9 On Your Side Reporter Steve Nuñez asked: "Why should American taxpayers get stuck with paying medical expenses for immigrants?"
"Our stance is that no one should be subject to this kind of treatment everybody should have access to the critical medical care that they need and they should not be forced out of a hospital," said Allen.
Now UMC could not give KGUN9 News an exact figure on the cost to deport an immigrant by ambulance. The hospital's spokesperson would only say it runs in the thousands of dollars.
UMC also confirmed it has a contract with a Mexican collections agency but their collection rate is very low.
A medical ethicist told 9 On Your Side all costs, including critical care costs, are then shifted to patients who are insured.