US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Don't scratch your head--it's only immigration law

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint |

U.S. law can be contradictory – no more than tax or immigration law. An attorney can make a handsome buck in tax law, not so in immigration law – since it usually deals with poor or modest-income people. This was illustrated last week in two reports in the New York Times.

Angel is a waiter in New York City. He’s Mexican, undocumented, married and the father of two young American citizens. Angel also has renal disease. When his kidneys began to fail, he checked into an emergency room – which is legal – and was placed on dialysis courtesy of New York’s Medicaid. That cost $75,000 a year, shared between the state and the feds. That enables Angel to continue to work four days a week at the restaurant where his service is prized by his employer, fellow workers, and patrons.

What Angel really needs is a transplant. And he has a brother willing to donate a kidney and doctors willing to waive their fees. The operation and the medication to help his body accept the new kidney would cost $100,000 which ordinarily would be covered by Medicare -- except Congress has explicitly excluded the undocumented immigrant from participating. So the Catch-22 is what’s good for the patient and cheaper for the tax payer is illegal. What is legal is keeping Angel attached to a machine for the rest of his life, costing the tax payer $75,000 a year. (Mount Sinai Hospital which was recommended for the operation had rejected Angel as a charity case and would make him pay $200,000 out of his own pocket. The hospital is not being heartless. Uncompensated care is another issue the poor and hospitals must confront.)

Cases like Angel’s are not rare and often end in tragedy. Many suffer worse consequences than his drudgery on a dialysis machine. Delay can end in premature death or lead to neglecting serious illness. Some in Congress are actually for tightening the law – taking dialysis away from Angel and denying some emergency room treatments. A last irony is the cruelest. The undocumented can donate his/her organs through the emergency room – about 2.5% donated come from the undocumented – but can’t receive one – only about 1%.

The other report is on affluent foreign investors who heartedly welcomed welcomed by many state and federal agencies. The law is readily stretched to accommodate them. It was enacted in the 1990s to encourage investments that create jobs by entitling the investor and his family to a “green card” or permanent residency. They must invest a million dollars and create 10 new jobs over two years. But if the investment is in a high unemployment area, the investor has cough up only $500,000. The popularity of the program isn’t so much to make a buck, as to get one of those precious green cards for their kids.

A nice business has grown up in gerrymandering districts to meet the requirements of the law. The New York Times highlighted a project in the diamond district of midtown Manhattan. Much of its funding is in these $500,000 investments facilitated by state agencies and our federal government. Many of the investments come from China and are clearly a path to citizenship – even if it’s dual citizenship – for young rich kids.