A Chicago-area hospital discharged a critically injured young Mexican national, Quelino Ojeda Jimenez, and without his approval, transported him to a hospital in his home state of Oaxaca, Mexico, right before Christmas. The 20-year-old Jimenez was working as a roofer last fall when he fell and sustained serious injuries that left him quadriplegic. Now in Oaxaca, the young man is not confident that the hospital he was transferred to has the needed resources to help him recover. According to an in-depth report by the Chicago Tribune, Jimenez is in a “hospital that is so resource-poor that it is reusing filters for the breathing machine needed to keep him alive.”
Reactions to the Tribune’s story reveal the relationship between the dehumanizing way in which we discuss immigrants today and the increasingly brutal treatment immigrants receive even at places like hospitals. “Would it have been cheaper just to pull the plug than to fly him back to Mexico?” wrote one commenter. “So nice we absorb the expense of his crime of coming to America illegally.”
Advocate Christ Medical Center has admitted to transferring Jimenez without his consent. Hospital officials maintain the move was made so he could be closer to home, but Jimenez is now 4 hours away from his parents, sisters, wife and child who live in a remote town and cannot afford to see him regularly. Friends in Chicago who cared for Jimenez are outraged.
This case illustrates both the extent of dehumanization suffered by immigrants and the lack of accountability via our broken immigration and healthcare systems. The hospital says it tried to get private rehab institutions to take Jimenez, but they would not because of his status. That’s when hospital officials took matters into their own hands.
Whether Advocate had legal authority to send Ojeda back to Mexico is unclear. Although hospitals say they are serving patients’ interests by sending them to their countries of origin, advocates argue they are potentially violating U.S. immigration laws. So far, legal repercussions remain largely unexplored.
“Immigration is the province not of hospitals, but of the federal government,” according to a winter 2010 article on medical repatriations in the Northwestern University Law Review.
In Advocate Christ’s case, the hospital made what it thought was a justified medical decision, not a deportation decision, said Howard Peters, executive vice president at the Illinois Hospital Association.
Not surprisingly, the Tribune’s reader comments reveal standard hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric, and even when people are trying to be sympathetic, they come back to the idea that Jimenez is after all, just an “illegal immigrant.”
Equating Jimenez’s worth with the i-word gives people enough reason to negate his human right to healthcare. When questions come up as to why the hospital transferred him without permission and why Jimenez’s employer or contractor did not step in to foot the bill for his rehabilitation, responses reference his undocumented status not human rights abuses.
TIGGERBOY29 at 12:53 PM February 10, 2011 I feel sorry for him but he was here illegally and had no insurance … They out to abolish that dang anchor baby law too. If you’re illegal then your child is too pack ‘em up and ship them back.
cbanks1984 at 5:20 PM February 8, 2011 everyone has their 2 cents and its crappy that this happend to a guy who is ” illegal” and got almost 700k free healthcare … I am a citizen and i cant get even an approval for a friggin mri from blue cross without jumping through hoops and we all pay good money per month for our healthcare …
Shavedlongcock at 5:50 PM February 7, 2011 Would it have been cheaper just to pull the plug than to fly him back to Mexico? So nice we absorb the expense of his crime of coming to America illegally.
gdschmelzle at 12:08 PM February 7, 2011 Companies such as Imperial Roofing need to be held accountable for hiring illegals (no economic incentive and less will come) and for not following safety procedures (where was his safety harness?)
Rick’s Voice at 10:52 AM February 7, 2011 Come on Trib.. Why are you sugarcoating this…? It should read.. ILLEGAL ALIEN worker who became quadriplegic is moved to Mexico…
The “illegal immigrant” label immediately blocks a richer conversation and is too often used as an excuse to absolve the decision makers, policies and systems that impact human life of any accountability. Until we start putting human beings at the center of all of our policy making, our values and our regard for human life will continue to erode. The main argument against the i-word is that people have broken laws, but if our laws are inhumane and untenable, they are not valid reference points. As we eradicate the conversation-stopping i-word, let’s start creating the space for real discussion to happen. You can read Jimenez’s full story here.