New Rules Keep Poor Mexicans From US Thu Feb 13, 4:14 PM ET By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer MEXICALI, Mexico - Francisco Martinez hobbled onto his
Feb 23, 2003
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New Rules Keep Poor Mexicans From US
Thu Feb 13, 4:14 PM ET
By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer
MEXICALI, Mexico - Francisco Martinez hobbled onto his crumbling porch and
stared across the street, a frown creeping across his face.
Martinez, the 13-year-old everyone calls "The Punk" because of his spiky
hair and the anarchy symbol spray-painted on his backpack, was supposed to
be in Los Angeles recovering from surgery on his left leg, which was
deformed when a car hit him three years ago.
An American surgeon had donated his time and a U.S. clinic had arranged a
free five-hour bus ride to the hospital. But the night before he was to
leave, a volunteer from the clinic called to say no one was being allowed
to cross the border without a U.S. visa.
"It's close. America is right there," Martinez said, leaning on his
crutches and gesturing at a greenish-gray metal wall separating Mexicali
and Calexico, Calif. "But it's not close for us."
The United States has long required Mexicans to have visas to enter the
country. But for decades, the Immigration and Naturalization Service
waived the requirement for those in need of medical treatment. That policy
ended with a U.S. security clampdown after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"We agree these persons are not suspected terrorists," said Lauren Mack, a
spokeswoman for INS in San Diego. "But in the long run we want everyone to
be complying with the legal guidelines."
The problem is most Mexicans can't afford to be legal. A visa interview
costs $100 more than 20 times Mexico's minimum daily wage. You also need
a Mexican passport costing at least $33.50.
Humanitarian waivers are still available for Mexicans crossing the border
to visit a dying relative, receive emergency treatment or identify a dead
body. But those cost $142.
Martinez lives with his grandmother, aunt and uncle and two cousins in a
cinderblock hovel on a potholed street.
The $270 it would take for him and his grandmother to cross the border is
more money than he's ever seen.
"It doesn't seem like a lot of money to a lot of people, but to us it's an
amount we can never pay," said Adila Castro, who was unable to take her
son Isai Duarte to an appointment in Los Angeles last month for a
"I will never look normal, but I would like to have a new eye," said the
boy, who was hit by a bottle rocket during a barbecue last March.
In a trailer park outside Mexicali, 31-year-old Yesenia Robles was
depending on American doctors to save her children's vision.
Her oldest son, Jose de Jesus Trejo, went blind in one eye at 2 because of
cataracts. Physicians working for free in Los Angeles saved the partial
vision in his other eye.
His sister, 8-year-old Alexa, began receiving cataract treatment when she
was 6 months old. Doctors say she will need at least two more surgeries.
The new visa rules blocked Los Angeles eye appointments for 18-month-old
twins Alfonso and Leslie, who wear glasses so thick they can't hold their
heads up for more than a few seconds at a time.
"We are afraid this house will be full of four blind children soon,"
Raul Cueto, the Mexican consul in Calexico, said Mexicans who receive
donated care in the United States can't afford private care in their home
country. And Mexico's state medicine often doesn't have the resources to
treat people with specialized illnesses such as deformities and
degenerative cataracts, he said.
"It's very hard to sit at a desk in Washington or in Mexico City and
dictate what happens on the border," Cueto said. "The border has its own
life, it's own rhythm, and both sides depend on each other more than most
Rep. Robert Filner, a California Democrat, said he will introduce
legislation to let INS directors at border crossings give qualifying
Mexicans free humanitarian and medical waivers to cross the border.
"This is a ridiculous situation that INS has put us in," Filner said.
"They have interpreted 9/11 as 'keep everyone out.' That's not the way
they should be looking at it."
U.S. hospitals have begun opening free clinics in Mexican border towns.
But it is difficult for non-Mexican physicians to obtain licenses to
perform surgery south of the border, so many American clinics can do
little more than schedule appointments in the United States.
"Any patient in our system eventually will require treatment in our
hospitals," said Dr. Richard Bowen of Shriners Hospital for Children in
Los Angeles. "You can't do surgery across the border, so us coming to
Mexico to (see patients) is not a long-term solution."
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