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Our Leaders Betray Us - Public Health and Social Impact

April 14, 2009

031408_kentlundgren_1.jpgby Kent Lundgren
April 13, 2009

Our immigration laws should protect not only the individuals of this country from disease, but our resources from unsustainable use. These are modern times and medicine can fix many things now, but diseases still matter, and treating disease and injury has become terribly expensive. In recent decades we have opened our hospitals to anyone who walks in, and the bills wind up being paid by the public-or the hospitals go out of business.

If we were infinitely rich we could afford to be infinitely generous, but we are not infinitely rich. Our national medical resources should not be expended on those who have no right to be here.

Health screening goes on for those who come legally to the U.S, especially for those who come to reside here. "Imported" diseases among our population of legal aliens have not presented a demonstrable threat to the health of the people of this country.
Illegal aliens, however, are another matter. They undergo no health screening, so we have no idea what any individual may bring. We can say that as a group, though, they bring diseases we have not seen here in decades. For instance, tuberculosis, leprosy, and dysentery show up now along the border with Mexico. There are pork tapeworm infestations in Texas, and Northern Virginia has seen outbreaks of tropical diseases brought to this country from Africa and Asia. Washington State and California have huge populations of illegal aliens. Those states also present tuberculosis cases far beyond the normal range-that is no coincidence. The medical literature is out there to back this position up for those who are incapable of seeing the common sense version of it, which is this: millions of illegal aliens come from third world countries with third world diseases and health and sanitation practices. Through their ignorance of modern health practices and sanitation, these individuals become disease vectors as they prepare and serve our food, clean our rooms, and care for our children and elderly. Our leaders seem incapable of grasping this simple fact: there are good reasons that illegal aliens should not be allowed to run free in this country by the million. The threat to our health is one of those reasons, yet our leaders betray us by permitting it. Why? We must demand an answer.

Protection of public health has been a goal of immigration laws since the first ones were adopted in the 19th century. It has only been in recent decades, though, that public services have become an issue-and they have become a big one. To be blunt, medical care for illegal aliens is running many hospitals into the ground financially, and their use of fraudulent identification is corrupting many of the security nets that have been put in place to take care of our own.

The major culprit is the blind generosity of our own Congress with our money. The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) demands that emergency rooms treat anyone who enters claiming to be suffering from an emergency-and the patient gets to define what is an emergency. Naturally, when there is a poor population (we are not speaking of just illegal aliens - yet) with no access to other sources of medical care, the emergency room becomes their clinic of necessity. And since it is free to them, it gets used for anything, big or small. It may be a gunshot wound or it may be a headache, but the hospital must treat the problem or face disciplinary action or fines by the government.

Even if the problem is simple enough to fix with a one-cent aspirin, though, the cost of dealing with that patient is high. Medical staff gets paid the same whether they are treating a hangover or a hernia. Administrative personnel must go through the same reams of paperwork regardless of how simple the medical problem might be. Eventually, the unreimbursed costs add up to the point that they are no longer sustainable, and since most hospitals are for-profit enterprises, they close their doors, unable to keep going. Hospitals in areas with large populations of illegal aliens are in the worst shape, with California having lost 70 hospitals and trauma centers to economic closure between 1990 and 2004. The same thing is going on across the country in metropolitan areas with large poor populations. Texas, Florida, New Jersey; all have seen hospitals shut down. And the quality of services is being impacted by sheer volume of patients nearly everywhere there are large numbers of poor.

The undiscussed secret is this, an elephant in the living room: if we did not have so many illegal aliens here we would not have so many poor people. That is so for two reasons. First, the illegal aliens themselves are poor, often working poor, but poor nevertheless. And second, by their presence, they depress wages and working conditions and outright take jobs that ought to be held by American workers. Illegal aliens keep millions of Americans poor, and thus forced to draw on public support, as well as the fact that the aliens themselves draw on public facilities. They are a drag on our medical services system in ways we cannot afford.

Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1965. So far, we have not won that war, or even made a dent in poverty. The reason is that we keep importing reinforcements for the other side. If we made the uncounted millions of illegal aliens go home by depriving them of jobs and the other benefits of our society we would improve the lives of equal millions of our own people, primarily our own poor. In the practice of medicine, this is called triage. That is, you can't save everyone, so allocate limited resources to save those whom you can, or in this case, whom you should. Illegal aliens are those whom we can no longer afford to allocate resources to. We never could, of course, but we are just now finding that out the hard way. Human decency demands that if we permit them to be here, even invite them by default, as we have for years, we should treat their emergencies, but the real solution is to make sure they aren't here at all.

We should demand that our leaders explain to us why they permit this. They not only permit it, but enable and encourage and abet it by refusing to undertake meaningful immigration enforcement efforts that would make the U.S. inhospitable to illegal aliens, thus causing them to go home. Why are our leaders betraying an entire class of Americans, the poor, by allowing millions of illegal aliens to take what rightfully belongs to those who belong here? They owe us an answer, a clear one that means something to the person who can't find a decent job any more and is thus condemned to poverty.

031408_kentlundgren2.jpgKent Lundgren
National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers


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