2002 Eugene Katz Award For Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration

Read the panel discussion transcript

Regular readers of immigration news are struck by a remarkably common formula: a narrative of the individual immigrant, delineating the hazards and obstacles confronting the newcomer to America, to the exclusion of virtually any consideration of the larger context of U.S. immigration policy. All too often, Americans read or hear only about the illegal alien toiling without a valid driver's license, or luckless immigrants running afoul of criminal deportation rules. This is not to suggest that such stories are devoid altogether of news value, just that, in such accounts, there is little sense of how immigration policy is impacting the nation as a whole — precisely the sort of coverage that might lead lawmakers and the public to the healthy re-examination of the status quo.

Against this backdrop, consider the reporting of August Gribbin, recently retired from The Washington Times, and this year's recipient of the Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration. Contained in this booklet are seven stories by Mr. Gribbin published by the Times between July 2001 and March 2002. The focus in each story is on immigration policy in its broadest sense: the Bush administration’s support for an amnesty for millions of illegal aliens from Mexico; the plight of thousands of refugees left in limbo by heightened security post September 11; the policy of mass immigration and its impact on the overall size of the U.S. population; how rampant fraud endemic in our immigration system threatens the integrity of legal immigration; and three others equally broad in their portrait of the policy landscape.

Mr. Gribbin’s focus on policy as opposed to individual stories extended to the backroom bartering of the Washington lawmakers who determine immigration policy. His March 12, 2002, account of House Republicans’ plans to hide a mini-amnesty in an unrecorded, late-evening vote didn’t merely make for national news coverage but ushered in a tidal wave of protest from outraged Americans in high-pitched calls to their members of Congress. The story migrated from Limbaugh to O’Reilly to major print media coverage the following day and, not coincidentally, the legislative maneuvering was halted in its tracks. This is reporting of the highest caliber; not merely an accurate gathering of facts but an examination of an often-elusive target few Washington reporters successfully chronicle — and in the process, Mr. Gribbin served not only his readership but our democracy as well.

Mr. Gribbin’s reporting also has displayed an extraordinary breadth. One might canvas his files for the past year and be confident of encountering the entirety of notable immigration policy developments: the immigration agenda of Presidents Bush and Fox; amnesty and guestworker proposals; government reports on America’s vulnerabilities with respect to our borders and policies; the demographic consequences of Census 2000 findings; and, of course, the immigration aspects of September 11. Here again Mr. Gribbin must be commended for breaking away from the pack with his March 18, 2002, story on the bankruptcy confronting many hospitals in the Southwest as a result of offering treatment to thousands of illegal border-crossers there.

Each year the Center for Immigration Studies reviews a wide universe of immigration reporting as part of its Katz Award program. The purpose of the Katz Award is to promote informed and fair reporting on this contentious and complicated issue, and never has it been more needed.

Eugene Katz was a native New Yorker who started his career, after Dartmouth and Oxford, as a reporter for the Daily Oklahoman. In 1928, he joined the family business, working as an advertising salesman for the Katz Agency, and in 1952 became president of Katz Communications, a half-billion-dollar firm which not only dealt in radio and television advertising but also owned and managed a number of radio stations. Mr. Katz was a member of the Center for Immigration Studies board until shortly after his 90th birthday in 1997. He passed away in 2000.

The Center for Immigration Studies is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute which examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States. It is animated by a pro-immigrant/low-immigration vision, but offers the Katz Award not to promote a certain point of view but to foster informed decision-making on an issue so central to America’s future.

Mark Krikorian
Executive Director
Center for Immigration Studies
May 2002

August Gribbin Articles

1. Bush Mulls Amnesty Grants for Illegals; Guest Worker Program Another Option

2. Security Leaves Refugees Stranded; Thousands Wait to be Admitted

3. Immigrant Base Forms 20% of Population, Survey Finds Census Predicts Foreign-Born and their Children Will Rise Sharply

4. GAO Says Border Still Vulnerable to Terrorist infiltrators; Calls for Long-Term Force at Canada

5. Study on Immigration Calls Fraud 'Rampant'

6. House Set to 'Cloak' Amnesty; Vote on Illegal Aliens Will Be Unrecorded

7. Hospitals Feel Pain of Mexican Crossings; Forced to Cover Aliens' Care Costs

Bush Mulls Amnesty Grants for Illegals
Guest Worker Program Another Option
By August Gribbin
The Washington Times, July 17, 2001

The White House is considering a grant of amnesty for the millions of Mexicans who have sneaked into the United States and live here illegally.

However, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer stressed yesterday that the amnesty plan is just part of a package of proposals being developed by top U.S. and Mexican officials to deal with the problem of Mexican immigration. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell head the U.S. team studying the issue.

Mr. Fleischer said the proposals also include the possibility of creating a special "guest-worker program." The program would give legal status and a measure of protection to seasonal Mexican workers who routinely move back and forth across the border to harvest U.S. crops. Both the amnesty and the guest-worker program have been high on the agenda of Mexican President Vicente Fox, and political analysts say his diplomatic corps has been pitching the ideas diligently since Mr. Fox and President Bush met last February.

The idea of granting amnesty — or "regularizing the status" — of what Mexico says is some 3 million people finds favor with certain Democrats and pro-immigration advocates. But it irks some Republican leaders and has students of Mexican affairs raising cautions.

For instance, Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who heads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, said: "This is a kick in the teeth to the thousands of individuals across the world who are legally attempting to enter the United States. Instead, the U.S. is saying, ‘Why wait? Sneak on in.’"

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, yesterday warned against making wholesale changes, telling reporters, "A mass amnesty is probably not the way to go."

"But what the U.S. and Mexican administrations are thinking about is trying to work with the new reform president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, and come up with a reasonable way to have movement back and forth across our border," he said. "I think we need to do it with some forethought . . . not do it in such a way that rewards illegal activity."

House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri commended the Bush administration "for its reported review of the important issue of the immigration status of millions of Mexican immigrants living and working in the United States."

And the head of the National Immigration Forum, Frank Sharry, said, "This is a bold and smart move on the part of the Bush administration. If Mr. Bush plays this right, he will bring common sense to immigration policy and score a big foreign policy victory and stand with President Fox as a friend of Hispanic immigrants."

"It’s not just smart, it’s brilliant," says George Grayson, a College of William and Mary specialist in Mexican affairs.

He said moves toward amnesty can go far toward capturing for Mr. Bush the important Hispanic vote in 2004 while cementing favor with the popular and potentially powerful leader of Mexico.

Yet politics aside, Mr. Grayson and others say there are powerful arguments against amnesty.

"For one thing, this estimate of 3 million Mexican illegals is the Mexican administration’s lowball estimate. It’s more likely 6 million and could as easily be 9 million. Then too, amnesty rewards lawbreaking, and once done, it creates enormous pressure for future amnesties for those who are encouraged to pour across the border believing that they too will receive amnesty, permanent residency, and eventual citizenship," Mr. Grayson said.

Mr. Grayson says a guest-worker program or immigration is not needed in the current tight job market, where largely uneducated and unskilled Mexican illegals are competing for the shrinking number of low-end job with America’s own unskilled, high-school dropouts, and people fighting to get off welfare.

A preliminary report containing the amnesty and guest-worker program proposals will be presented to Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox when the Mexican president completes a five-day visit to the United States this week.

Formal recommendations are expected by September, when Mr. Fox returns to the United States for a Washington meeting with Mr. Bush.

Copyright © 2001, The Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.


Security Leaves Refugees Stranded
Thousands Wait to be Admitted
By August Gribbin
The Washington Times, January 31, 2002

The heightened emphasis on security since September 11 has caused a drastic reduction in the number of refugees admitted to the United States, and thousands of those who were cleared to migrate here are stranded overseas.

Since October, 781 refugees — people who have demonstrated they are victims of religious or political persecution and need protection — have arrived in this country. In the comparable period a year earlier, 14,000 were admitted. Officials of humanitarian agencies say the decrease in U.S. admissions is seriously disrupting the refugee resettlement system. That’s because the agencies rely heavily on government grants, which decrease when the number of refugees ebbs, and on volunteers who drift to other endeavors when their assistance isn’t immediately needed.

"Refugee admissions slowed because of what happened internationally. But certainly in these times there is an important need for leadership in providing safe haven for those with nowhere else to turn. No refugee was involved in September 11. We’re disappointed. . . . It’s disturbing," says Lavinia Limon, director of the nonprofit U.S. Committee on Refugees.

Immediately after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the government stopped the flow of immigrants into the country, pending a far-reaching security review of U.S. overseas facilities and immigrant-processing practices. The freeze denied entry to about 22,000 refugees who were "travel ready" before September 11.

Also, the Immigration and Naturalization Service officials charged with interviewing asylum seekers overseas were recalled, and President Bush delayed announcing the refugee quota for fiscal 2002 until the security reviews were completed.

When the reviews were accomplished in November, Mr. Bush announced that the United States would grant asylum to 70,000 refugees. But last week, the State Department declared that as an effect of heightened security and difficulties restarting the refugee-processing system, it would admit between 40,000 and 50,000 people this year.

Many people who would have been cleared for admission before September 11 will now be rejected, and tougher standards are being applied across the board, a State Department spokesman says.

The INS also indicated that it would be interviewing fewer new refugee cases. A spokesman said the agency will begin interviewing refugees again next month.

"People are suffering from these decisions," Miss Limon said. "It’s not as if you can say, ‘Well, the 20,000 who were denied entry can come next year.’ These people — at least a third of them children — have no ability to survive in their current situations. They’re high-risk people. This is like sending out the lifeboats half full."

Miss Limon and others said the slowdown in admissions is causing the so-called "refugee resettlement infrastructure" to crumble. Agencies are laying off paid staff and some are in danger of folding. Miss Limon says, "I’m very afraid this country will not have the infrastructure in place to respond to future refugee emergencies in the world."

Martin Ford of the state-funded Maryland Office for New Americans said funding for non-state agencies assisting refugees typically is based on the number of refugees admitted and assisted in the previous year. If the refugee count is low in 2002, the money granted in 2003 will be low, requiring the organizations to shed workers and leaving the agencies unprepared to cope when demand for services increases.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society resettled about 1,900 refugees in the final months of 2000 but helped just 34 in the same period of 2001, Reuters news agency reported.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which normally aids roughly 1,000 immigrants a month, provided aid to 94 from October to November of 2001, and this month cared for 230.

Copyright © 2002, The Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.


Immigrant Base Forms 20% of Population, Survey Finds
Census Predicts Foreign-Born and their Children Will Rise Sharply
By August Gribbin
The Washington Times, February 7, 2002

A record 56 million immigrants and their children reside in the United States, which means they now make up one-fifth of the U.S. population, the Census Bureau reports.

An analysis of data from the March 2000 Current Population Survey that is being released today shows the number of foreign-born residents and their U.S.-born children has risen by 22 million in three decades. Dianne Schmidley, author of the study, predicts the figure "is likely to rise in the future as recent immigrants form families." The Census Bureau’s study does not include data obtained from the 2000 census, nor is it based on information developed in a "supplemental" survey conducted simultaneously with the regular census. Demographers and immigration analysts predict that when the numbers from those surveys are examined, they will show that the number of foreign-born and their children is much higher than the release today indicates.

An analysis by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies puts the number of foreign-born residents — not including their offspring — at 30.1 million, nearly 3 million more than the 28.4 million reported by the release.

Even the 28.4 million figure represents a tripling of the immigrant population in the last three decades; it means that now at least 11 percent of the nation’s residents are immigrants.

"We’ve seen a dramatic change in the foreign-born population in one generation. It has gone from less than 5 percent in the 1970s to 11 percent in 2000. That’s a rapid change in the nature of a country’s population," says Urban Institute demographer Jeffrey S. Passel.

The immigrant population tends to be young. In 2000, 21 percent of the U.S. population under 25 years old was either foreign-born or born to immigrants. In 1970, that figure was 7 percent.

Charles Christian, a social geographer at the University of Maryland, says high immigration rates will undoubtedly continue, although they may taper off if proposals to tighten border and visa controls in the wake of the September 11 attacks actually are enacted.

"People will keeping coming here because for many in the world the streets of major U.S. cities are still paved with gold — not real gold but real opportunity — and America has repeatedly demonstrated its tolerance," he said.

"Although the most compassionate nation can’t harbor all who wish to come," he added, "America is hardly likely to impose the kind of quotas enacted in the 1920s to reduce the alien population."

Copyright © 2002, The Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.


GAO Says Border Still Vulnerable to Terrorist Infiltrators;
Calls for Long-Term Force at Canada
By August Gribbin
The Washington Times, February 21, 2002

Before September 11, government officials said the nation’s northern border was poorly guarded and vulnerable to terrorist infiltration. Four terrorist attacks and five months later, it still is.

Despite security analysts’ warnings and legislators’ complaints, just 345 Border Patrol agents have permanent assignments to watch the 3,987-mile line dividing Canada and the United States.

By comparison, 9,065 agents patrol the 2,000-mile southern boundary with Mexico. The General Accounting Office, Congress’ investigative arm, yesterday confirmed the "long term needs of the northern border" persist and concluded in a new report:

"The northern border has received minimal Border Patrol agent enhancements... Many stations still cannot operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The communication system is still inadequate and not only presents a law enforcement problem but could pose a safety issue for Border Patrol agents."

After September 11, the Immigration and Naturalization Service transferred 110 Border Patrol agents from the Mexican to the Canadian border for 60 days, and government officials promised state National Guard units would be assigned to the area.

The National Guard troops never arrived and, INS officials said, the added Border Patrol contingent was withdrawn in December.

INS officials here said a fresh force of 100 agents from the south later was assigned to the northern border for another 60 days. However, a spokesman for the service’s Seattle district said: "I know that last Thursday D.C. the Washington headquarters appropriated 111 Border Patrol positions and 15 support staff for the northern border. But we haven’t been reinforced yet. We’re still working overtime — a lot of overtime. We’re waiting to see what happens."

Arrangements for enhanced security on the Canadian border are still in the works, said a spokesman for Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security.

"An agreement is being worked out between the departments of Justice and Treasury to temporarily assign National Guard troops to various border locations until the Customs Service and Border Patrol can bring new agents on line," Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "The discussions are pretty far along."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s 2003 budget requests money to increase the Border Patrol by 570 positions to a record 11,000. From that group, 285 agents are slated to reinforce the northern border.

The Border Patrol buildup, however, is at least 10 months away and the extra funding is contingent on congressional approval.

The northern border situation is complex and serious, say published statements of Mr. Ridge and members of Congress. Some 50 terrorist organizations have active cells in Canada and have used that country as a gateway to the United States.

In December 1999, for example, Ahmed Ressam of Algeria was caught at a border check at Port Angeles, Wash., trying to sneak sophisticated blasting devices and explosives into the United States as part of a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.

Two years before the Ressam capture, Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, a Palestinian, was arrested in Brooklyn along with three colleagues. He had bombs that were to be exploded in New York’s subway system. Mezer, who later was convicted, stated he had traveled to Canada and set up residency there as a way to penetrate the United States.

Four months ago, Glenn A. Fine, the Justice Department’s inspector general, told the House subcommittee on immigration and claims that the Mezer case illustrated "the ease of entry into Canada and the difficulty of controlling illegal immigration from Canada into the United States."

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Canadian business leaders and some politicians were fiercely resisting U.S. efforts to secure the border. They fear such action will slow truck-borne commerce between the United States and Canada and adversely affect trade. Additionally, U.S. agencies with border-related duties reportedly are balking at Mr. Ridge’s efforts to quickly consolidate and bolster anti-terrorist activity on the border.

The INS plans to rely on "force-multiplying" high-tech devices to strengthen northern border security. But Randolph C. Hite, a technology specialist with the General Accounting Office, told Congress in October that the INS, "is unlikely ... to effectively and efficiently leverage ... technology resources to best meet border security mission needs."

Copyright © 2002, The Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.


Study on Immigration Calls Fraud 'Rampant'
By August Gribbin
The Washington Times, February 23, 2002

Congressional investigators have found that immigration fraud is now so extensive it "threatens the integrity of the legal immigration system."

In a little-noted study prepared for a House subcommittee on immigration released Feb. 15, the General Accounting Office found fraud to be "pervasive and significant."

The GAO said immigration fraud "will increase as smugglers and other criminal enterprises use fraud as another means of bringing illegal aliens, including criminal aliens, into the country." The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said Immigration and Naturalization Service officials say fraud is "rampant" and that they "believe that some aliens are using the benefit application process to enable them to carry out ... crimes of violence, narcotics trafficking and terrorism" in this country.

The INS uses the term "benefits" to refer to such functions as allowing immigrants to become naturalized citizens, granting work permits to resident aliens and changing the visa status of visitors and would-be residents.

INS executives acknowledged that a serious problem exists but said the problem is overstated because the fraud estimates are "unscientific" and not based on "statistically valid samples."

The GAO countered that although the estimates provided by INS supervisors and managers were not based on "scientific studies," they reflect the experience of those who should know the "pervasiveness and significance of the problem."

Fraud occurs when otherwise ineligible aliens lie or engage in various schemes to make it seem that they are related to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or are eligible to immigrate because they are especially needed workers.

Some aliens conduct sham marriages, or they might In most instances, the fraudulent claims are backed by counterfeit documentation.

The GAO says the INS allows the fraud to flourish by stressing that applications must be processed quickly.

In some districts, "adjudicators," who decide whether a benefit will be granted, are ordered to spend no more than 15 minutes on an application. This effectively discourages checking for fraud, the study says.

The GAO found that 90 percent of 5,000 petitions for workers sought by foreign companies "particularly in the Los Angeles area" were fraudulent.

"An official in the INS operations branch stated that a follow-up analysis of about 1,500 petitions found only one ... that was not fraudulent," the GAO said.

The GAO also found that of 22,000 applications submitted for aliens by an immigration consulting firm, some 5,500 were fraudulent and 4,400 were suspected of being frauds.

One INS official, according to the report, said adjudication officials were so overworked and pressured that they were paid overtime to work at home, where they lack access to the databases used for detecting fraud.

The result of such practices, the GAO concludes, is that "there is no assurance that INS reviews are adequate for detecting noncompliance or abuse."

Copyright © 2002, The Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.


House Set to 'Cloak' Amnesty
Vote on Illegal Aliens Will Be Unrecorded
By August Gribbin
The Washington Times, March 12, 2002

House Republican leaders will attempt to slip through an unrecorded vote this evening to give amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, allowing them to remain legally in the United States.

The amnesty measure will come before the representatives by way of a special arrangement between the White House and the House leadership. It will appear among a batch of uncontroversial bills that typically win pro forma approval without amendment or debate.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said House approval "will send a message to the world that our country will continue to be a beacon to all who love freedom and the opportunity to live, work and raise a family." The legislation is listed on this evening’s so-called "suspension" or "consent" calendar, which lists bills that are expected to win automatic approval. The voting is "cloaked," meaning there is no record and no explanation of the way individual representatives vote, and each member is said to cast a "shadow vote."

Opponents say the Bush administration is using stealth tactics to get its way. They say the Republican Party is trying to schmooze Hispanic voters and appease Mexican leaders.

"Under pressure from the White House, the leadership of the House has chosen the sneakiest possible way to get amnesty passed so the president can go to Mexico this month and tell Mexican President Vicente Fox that amnesty has been approved," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican. "This is so incredibly frustrating."

Mr. Tancredo, who chairs the Congressional Caucus on Immigration Reform, opposes efforts to exempt from deportation or legal sanction people who have broken immigration law by infiltrating the border or overstaying their business, school or travel visas.

The bill’s supporters say that opponents’ characterization of the measure as an amnesty for illegal immigrants is an exaggeration. White House officials and their congressional backers argue that the U.S. economy depends on workers from Mexico to take on the kinds of low-skill, low-paying agricultural and service jobs that Americans avoid.

The administration favors making some sort of exemption for many of those undocumented workers by "legalizing," "normalizing" or "regularizing" the immigration status of laborers from Mexico.

Those who oppose such measures insist that making exemptions for illegal aliens compromises national security and, among other things, encourages others to violate the border.

The legislation in question is called the Section 245i Extension Bill. It refers to a portion of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that eases the requirements for seeking immigration status and defines who may obtain it.

An extension of Section 245i was up for a vote on September 11. As a result of the terrorist attacks, the vote was deferred and the 245i extension died. Until now, efforts to revive the measure have failed.

The 245i extension will apply to undocumented workers who pay $1,000 to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and have family members or employers willing to sponsor them for residency. It allows such illegal aliens to remain in the United States while applying for permanent residency and the right to work here rather than returning to their homeland and applying, as the basic law requires.

The exemption will last for six months. It will be a boon to illegal workers because applying from abroad for legal U.S. residency — which can lead to citizenship — can take many months, and the result is not certain. Then, too, applicants sometimes wind up on a long waiting list.

Mr. Tancredo says passing the 245i extension is "a slap in the face to all in the world who are waiting to come into the country legally. It tells those who waited and came to us legally that, ‘You all are a bunch of suckers. You should just have sneaked in. We will not trace you down. Stay under the radar screen, and we will give you amnesty.’ That’s the message this sends."

Responding to news of the impending vote, Dan Stein, head of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), wrote INS Commissioner James Ziglar, asking him to estimate the cost and burden on the service of changing the status of the illegal aliens who will apply for the exemption. FAIR lobbies for tighter immigration restrictions.

"On the six-month anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, it is shocking to find that the nation’s leaders haven’t yet understood the lessons of that day," Mr. Stein said in a statement. "Granting amnesty to those who have broken our laws and about whom we know virtually nothing is playing games with national security... To assume the INS is even remotely prepared or equipped to absorb the huge administrative burden of extending 245i is irresponsible... Few if any federal agencies have a worse track record than the INS when it comes to mismanagement, corruption, inefficiency, and ineptitude."

But backers of White House efforts to ease the burden on "hardworking, tax-paying" Mexicans pursuing the American dream contend all these objections are wrongheaded.

"The anti-immigration portion of the Republican Party wants to call this a giant, mass amnesty. It isn’t," said one Hill staffer involved with the 245i extension issue, who asked to remain anonymous. "And those in the party who want to keep the economy moving will vote ‘yes.’ We need these workers."

Copyright © 2002, The Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.


Hospitals Feel Pain of Mexican Crossings
Forced to Cover Aliens' Care Costs
By August Gribbin
The Washington Times, March 18, 2002

Illegal aliens who fall ill or injure themselves sneaking across the Mexican border are forcing many U.S. hospitals to the brink of bankruptcy.

The hospitals, many of which are located in sparsely populated and poor counties, are spending millions treating the broken bones, heat exhaustion and wounds of aliens they cannot refuse to treat and who cannot pay. The result, says James J. Dickson, head of the Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee, Ariz., is "a tragic and contentious situation."

Sheri Jorden, senior policy director for the Arizona Hospital and Health Care Association, calls it a "huge problem."

"Here you have a population that is not supposed to be here, that urgently needs care - which must be given — and no one will pay for it. The situation may be worst in Arizona, but it impacts New Mexico, California, Texas — even Illinois, New York, Iowa and other states far from the border."

George Mead, spokesman for the Texas Hospital Association, says that doctors and hospital administrators are not inclined to ignore those who are hurt. And even if they wanted to, they couldn’t.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires hospitals and ambulance services to provide care to anyone needing emergency treatment regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay. There are no reimbursement provisions, though, and the poor, desperate job seekers infiltrating the United States usually have no money.

It’s difficult to determine how much the situation costs border hospitals in a given year. For one thing, doctors don’t ask the nationality or legal status of patients. Still, administrators at 16 border hospitals recently tracked the expenses incurred from treating indigent and uninsured foreign nationals over a three-month period. The cost: $44 million.

In testimony last week before a subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee, Mr. Dickson reported that uncompensated costs attributed to "Border Patrol apprehensions" and "compassionate entry trauma" have risen more than 400 percent over the last four years.

"Border Patrol apprehensions" refers to what critics say is a deliberate Immigration and Naturalization Service policy of avoiding payment for the care of injured or sick illegal aliens that Border Patrol officers track down. The officers refuse to officially apprehend such victims. They take them to area hospitals for treatment, and since the victims are not officially in INS custody, the agency isn’t legally obligated to foot their bills.

Some months ago, for example, a van that the Border Patrol was chasing overturned, and the nearest hospital went on disaster alert. Because the Border Patrol refused to formally arrest the injured, the hospital had to absorb the costs.

Such costs can easily escalate, especially for surgery patients who need post-operative care. Hospitals are constrained from discharging patients without a letter from the patient’s family in Mexico, stating a family member will cooperate and see that the patient receives needed care when transferred back to Mexico.

Frequently, however, patients don’t give their real names. Even when they do, U.S. authorities find that the families can’t or won’t declare the patient will get the needed medical attention back home. In such cases, the hospital must arrange and pay for skilled nursing, physical rehabilitation or other post-hospital care.

Mr. Dickson told members of the subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources that two trauma centers near Tucson had announced they were closing because they could no longer sustain the losses. The facilities were given a brief reprieve when the state provided an infusion of funds.

But the University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz., predicts it will have to absorb $8 million to $10 million this year "in uncompensated care to foreign nationals," Mr. Dickson says. And Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center reported it lost $1 million treating 75 undocumented immigrants in the first quarter of fiscal 2002. It anticipates greater losses in the months ahead.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, and Rep. Ed Pastor, Arizona Democrat, are trying to win support among their colleagues for legislation to ease the situation.

Their bill calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to set up a five-year pilot program for directly reimbursing hospitals and ambulance services for emergency treatment given to foreigners who are in the country illegally or who are "paroled" for humanitarian reasons.

"Parole" is the government’s term for the practice of waving into the country seriously ill or injured persons seeking help at U.S. hospitals. The practice is humanitarian because there are few, if any, properly equipped Mexican health facilities for Mexican border dwellers. Miss Jorden reports, for example, that the nearest Mexico facility providing trauma care is about 150 miles from the Arizona-Mexico line.

Consequently, when an exploding propane tank severely burned four Mexican children in Naco last year, they were rushed across the border to the 49-bed Copper Queen Community Hospital. All the physicians and the entire staff were called in.

When the children’s conditions stabilized, they were whisked in four helicopters to a Phoenix burn center. Three died, and the fourth lived after an amputation and lengthy recovery. The Copper Queen hospital had to cover $277,292 in treatment costs.

Arizona’s medical community is particularly affected by the influx of aliens, but the health care problem caused by uninsured illegals increasingly affects other areas to which they flee.

"The border is now north of Kansas," Mr. Mead says.

Copyright © 2002, The Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.