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Illegal immigration and medical repatriation

While immigration reform continues to prompt heated debate from Florida residents and politicians alike, countless people across the country live day-to-day under the threat of deportation. Concerns over deportation and being separated from family in the U.S. dictate many people’s decisions regarding everything from their employment options to living arrangements, and immigration status can even play a role in the type and level of medical care that undocumented immigrants receive.

According to the New York Times, between six to eight medical patients are transported from one Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hospital back to their homelands every year because they are undocumented immigrants. Exact numbers regarding just how many immigrants are repatriated to their native countries from American medical facilities are unavailable, however, as such practices are not monitored or regulated by any government agency.

The practice of medical facilities discharging patients without immigration status and transporting them out of the country is known as medical repatriation, and is estimated to have increased in frequency in recent years. WPTV, of West Palm Beach, discusses medical repatriation and explains that individual medical facilities decide whether and when to effectively deport undocumented patients without health coverage. Beyond providing all patients with emergency medical treatment, it is at the discretion of hospitals to continue care for patients in stable condition. In the event that an undocumented patient does not have private medical insurance or is otherwise ineligible for continued care or rehabilitation, the hospital may decide to absorb the patient’s medical expenses or transfer him or her to a facility in the patient’s native country.

Given that some patients are incapacitated at the time of being transported out of the country, serious concerns over informed consent have been raised by immigration and medical advocates. Beyond that, some argue that denying patients’ rights to America medical care violates their human rights.

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