An undocumented woman who was taken into an examination room at a Texas healthcare clinic in recent days was met by county sheriff’s deputies, who arrested her for showing the receptionist a fake ID.
Blanca Borrego, a Mexican national who has lived in the United States 12 years, was called by the staff to go into the exam room after sitting in the waiting room for two hours to see her gynecologist, the Houston Press reported.
What Borrego didn’t know was that the staff had called police to say that they suspected that the woman, who was there with her two daughters, had presented a driver’s license that was fake when they asked her to show ID to update her file.
Minutes later, Borrego’s daughters, who stayed in the waiting room, saw their mother taken out of the clinic in handcuffs by the Harris County Sheriff’s deputies, the newspaper reported. The Northeast Women's Healthcare clinic in Atascocita, Texas is part of the Memorial Hermann Medical Group.
The sad fact is that many immigrant women in Texas, and across the country, already forgo needed healthcare, live with lumps in their breasts and daily pain, because clinics are inaccessible or put them at risk for deportation.
- Ana Rodriguez DeFrates, advocacy director, The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
The Press quoted one of Borrego’s daughters, who asked not to be named, as saying that one of the deputies told her: “We're going to take her downtown, she presented a form of false identification.” The deputy, according to the daughter, added: "She's going to get deported."
Borrego is at the Harris County jail on a $35,000 bond.
The Press said that Borrego had health insurance through her husband’s job.
Her youngest child, a daughter who is 8 years old, was born in the United States. Her other two children, a daughter and a son, qualified for deportation relief through President Barack Obama’s 2012 initiative, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. It offers at least a two-year reprieve from deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as minors, and who have no criminal record, and who meet some other criteria. DACA recipients may obtain driver’s licenses and work permits as part of the program.
The Press said that the Harris County District Clerk's records show Borrego was charged with one felony count of tampering with a government record.
Borrego's attorney, Clarissa Guajardo, told the Press that a factor in her client’s arrest seems to be a fake Social Security card deputies found in her purse while searching it at her gynecologist’s office.
She criticized the clinic for calling authorities about someone who was seeking medical care, and believes they may be in violation of federal patient privacy laws, commonly known as HIPAA.
“It's a basic human right to be able to get medical care,” she said. “It wasn't like she was getting public assistance, even. She had an established doctor-patient relationship with that gynecologist. This shouldn't have happened like this.”
Guajardo says that HIPAA does allow healthcare providers to contact police if they believe a patient could harm herself or others, but she raised doubts about immigration issues as a qualifying factor medical staff to call authorities.
“They took her into that examination room solely for the purpose of being arrested,” Guajardo told the Houston Press. “I just have a very hard time with that.”
On Monday, groups on both sides of the immigration debate defended or decried the actions of the medical staff.
“Blanca Borrego was waiting for a routine annual exam, not emergency medical care,” said Bob Dane, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, a group that favors strict immigration enforcement. “EMTALA says immigration status cannot be used as a basis to refuse providing treatment. It does not imply that illegal aliens are entitled to routine care nor are immune from the law.”
“Additionally, whoever the rightful owner was of the social security card that Ms. Borrego reportedly presented,” Dane said to Fox News Latino, “has been spared the nightmare of identity theft within the labyrinth of the health care system.”
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) assailed the clinic’s move against Borrego, calling it overzealous.
“The sad fact is that many immigrant women in Texas, and across the country, already forgo needed healthcare, live with lumps in their breasts and daily pain, because clinics are inaccessible or put them at risk for deportation,” said Ana Rodriguez DeFrates, the NLIRH advocacy director, in a statement. “This is an ongoing human rights crisis.”
Rodriguez said NLIRH would meet with lawmakers and would rally supporters to draw attention to the case.
“No one,” she said, “should be afraid to seek medical care for fear of deportation.”
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