The Legislative Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and Free Migration Project have released a new report on ongoing medical deportation in the United States. The practice of medical deportation of undocumented immigrants, although routine, is rarely reported.
The report summarizes medical deportation as “the physical removal by a non-government entity of an immigrant patient who is critically injured or ill from one country to another without the informed consent of the patient or the patient’s authorized caretaker.” Medical deportation has been ongoing but has received very little attention in the past. Many undocumented immigrants are not aware of their rights and do not know where and how to seek help if facing such a situation.
The Free Migration Project and the University of Pennsylvania Law School Legislative Clinic have released the 2021 report – “Fatal Flights – Medical Deportation in the U.S.” This report discusses the complexities of the medical deportation system, identifies potential issues in the system, and proposes legislative advocacy to bring a much-needed change.
The report notes that the practice of medical deportation fails to consider the best interest of the patient. The deported patient is usually sent to their home country, which often lacks medical facilities, resulting in poorer health outcomes or even death of the transported patient. Such deportations are carried out without involving the immigration courts or the Department of Homeland Security.
“Medical deportation is an issue that sits at the intersection of healthcare and immigration policy,” said Rodarte Costa from the University of Pennsylvania, one of the report’s authors. “It strips immigrant patients of the dignity and autonomy to make their own healthcare-related decisions, due in large part to their lack of health coverage and plays off a power differential that causes immigrants to fear the intervention of government authorities.”
The authors of the report “Fatal Flights” found that most medical deportations go unreported. Hospitals, doctors, and medical transport companies leverage the situation, often making huge profits. Medical professionals involved violate their ethical obligations to patients. The report further revealed that hospitals often disguise the deportations as medical repatriations. Medical repatriation occurs when a patient working or traveling abroad returns to their home country for medical treatment. But in reality, medical deportation is not medical repatriation.
The United States has more than 350 airplane ambulances capable of carrying out medical deportations. One company alone has deported 6,000 patients to more than 100 countries. Hospitals should not be involved in the medical deportation, and they must acknowledge the complexities of the deportation. “Hospitals should not be in the business of sending their patients somewhere else to die because they don’t want to pay for care,” said David Bennion from Free Migration Project, also an author of the report. “The government should take steps to prevent hospitals from deporting their patients to their deaths and should also extend healthcare coverage to all noncitizens.”
The report recommends that policymakers take a stand against medical deportations. Due consideration must be given to universal health care coverage, emergency Medicaid, by encouraging the societies to oppose medical deportations. The report also encourages health and immigration advocates to conduct further research in this field. Advocates are also encouraged to bring more awareness to the public.