An email chain letter circulated recently, fomenting anger toward some of the poorest, least politically represented in our midst — brown-skinned immigrants. The expressed outrage berated “illegal immigrants” — to use a Republican wedge-issue talking point. Real statistics were cited, based on ambiguous demographic descriptions — something like: “uninsured Hispanic immigrants with uncertain immigration status”, (is it not lovely how Republicans take indeterminate metrics, and distill the criteria down to coarse invective.) By quoting salient points in this diatribe against Latino immigrants, the following assertion was made.

Claim: A recent patient survey indicated that 70% of the women who gave birth at Parkland Memorial Hospital (PMH) in Dallas, Texas, in the first three months of 2006 were illegal immigrants. True with reservations.

A recent patient survey indicated that 70 percent of the women who gave birth at Parkland in the first three months of 2006 were illegal immigrants.’ Crikey, that’s 11,200 anchor babies born every year just in Dallas. According to the article, the hospital spent $70.7 million delivering 15,938 babies in 2004 but managed to end up with almost $8 million dollars in surplus funding. Medicaid kicked in $34.5 million, Dallas County taxpayers kicked in $31.3 million and the feds tossed in another $9.5 million.

The average patient in Parkland’s maternity wards is 25 years old, married and giving birth to her second child. She is also an illegal immigrant. By law, pregnant women cannot be denied medical care based on their immigration status or ability to pay. OK, fine. That doesn’t mean they should receive better care than everyday, middle-class American citizens. But at Parkland Hospital, they do.

The author also adds spice to the accusation by contrasting personal experience involving lesser care administered to military personnel and their families. Then follows with standard fare condemnation of Spanish language studies at a local education facility — a nod to English-only advocates.

The origins of this castigation of Latin immigrants are founded in several articles by the Dallas Morning News. See “Parkland will treat all moms-to-be” for example. Administrators of Parkland Health and Hospital System, when interviewed, affirmed that they asked no questions about immigration status from those seeking emergency medical attention.

“I don’t want my doctors and nurses to be immigration agents,” said Dr. Ron J. Anderson, the president of Parkland. “We decided that these are folks living in our community and we needed to render the care.”

JPS Health Network in neighboring Fort Worth, Texas, which has a more decidedly conservative approach to granting medical attention, requires foreign-born patients to produce documentation of legal entry status before performing non-emergency service. Spokes-people from both PMH and JPS attested that…

…some of the common assumptions made about immigrants who seek medical care at those facilities (and at other Texas hospitals) are misconceptions:

While Texas border hospitals often get “anchor babies” — children of Mexican women who dart across the border to give birth to an American citizen — most illegal immigrants who go to major hospitals in Texas can show that they have been living here for years, said Ernie Schmid, policy director at the Texas Hospital Association. Many immigrant families have mixed status; often a patient with no documents has a spouse or children who are legal.

Most immigrant patients have jobs and pay taxes, through paycheck deductions or property taxes included in their rent, administrators at the Dallas and Fort Worth hospitals said. At both institutions, they have a better record of paying their bills than low-income Americans do, the administrators said.

The largest group of illegal immigrant patients is pregnant women, hospital figures show. Contrary to popular belief here, their care is not paid for through local taxes. Under a 2002 amendment to federal regulations, the births are covered by federal taxes through Medicaid because their children automatically become American citizens.

It should be noted that under the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act [EMTALA], hospitals are obligated to provide care to pregnant women in need of emergency help, and those that fail to do so are subject to fines of up to $50,000 per violation and exclusion from Medicare and state health care programs.

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