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New Rules Keep Poor Mexicans From US

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  • SIUHIN@aol.com
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , 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
      prosthetic eye.

      "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,"
      Robles said.

      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
      people understand."

      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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