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Abandonment of Injured Immigrant Workers: Appeal for Help

Mark Zwick with Men in Wheel Chairs

“The chicken comes home to roost” is a phrase that applies to the disaster that has attacked the immigrant community.

The rejection of sick and injured immigrants by our society is among the sins that cry to heaven for vengeance.

The marked increase of immigrants in recent decades has seen the employment of more and more new people in Houston’s economy. Immigrants have made a tremendous contribution to the economic growth of the city in terms of a willingness not only to work for less, but also a willingness to work harder and longer. The needs of their families in their home countries drive them.

Everything in Houston is cheaper because of this cheap labor market. The citizen’s dollar goes further because of the immigrants’ contribution.

The immigrant has carried the burden of Houston’s economic success and growth.

Houston’s citizenry can be grateful for the contribution of the immigrant, whether it means cheaper housing or cheaper food or cleaner offices or better looking lawns and a myriad of other services delivered less expensively.

Acknowledging this success is important and it indicates a sense of justice and fairness, but we must call upon this sense of justice further to address the issue of what happens to immigrants when they can no longer contribute economically, when they become seriously ill or seriously injured, even discharged from the hospital in a vegetative state, unable to care for themselves.

In the present system the only option for the seriously ill or injured immigrant worker upon discharge from the hospital is the street.

The law says that anyone who is seriously ill or injured may go to the emergency room of any hospital for care and must be received. The hospital decides, however, who is accepted and not accepted, and they are reimbursed by Medicaid for those they do accept.

The problem arises when the hospital wants to discharge the patient, which will be as soon as possible, since the stay must be limited. Otherwise, the hospital will lose money.

There is no funding for housing the sick or dying new immigrant. They are essentially homeless upon discharge, whether they be a paraplegic, a quadriplegic, in a coma, in a vegetative state, dying, or mentally ill.

Recently, we have been called upon to care for four men who have fallen to the ground from scaffolding on a building they were constructing. All are quadriplegic or paraplegic. As they splattered on the pavement they became martyrs to the economic growth of Houston.

These men have been refused help despite their contribution to the economy and their willing-ness to work for not much more than the minimum wage.

Hospital Social Workers

The hospitals have nowhere to turn, so they turn to Casa Juan Diego to ask that we fund payment to a personal care home or provide financial assistance to a wife who will take care of her seriously ill husband at home, not being able to work, of course.

Presently, we at Casa Juan Diego are working with over forty such sick and injured patients and the cost of their care. This is a tremendous financial burden.

We are appealing to our readers to help us respond to the needs of these very ill or injured people.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXV, No. 5, July-August 2005.