Price of care: Who pays for ill undocumented immigrants?

ALVARADO, Texas -- When Sara Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, was released from Immigration and Customers Enforcement custody on Thursday to seek better medical attention, many News 8 viewers had questions.

Why hasn’t she been deported yet if she came here illegally in late 2015?

Who's paying for her attorney that secured her release?

Who's paying for medical care?

What are the costs of detaining someone for so long?

These are good follow-up questions to address, which we’ve done below:

The 26-year-old woman entered the country illegally in late 2015 to escape targeted domestic and gang violence in El Salvador, according to her attorneys. She was trying to reach family in New York when she was detained in Texas.

Hernandez wasn’t and hasn't been deported because she's seeking asylum. Her request was initially denied but is now on appeal. That process can take months, even years, according to immigration experts.

Hernandez’s local attorney during the past month has been Fatma Marouf. A professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law, Marouf is offering her services pro bono through the school’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic.

Marouf says because New York offers medical insurance regardless of immigration status, Hernandez should be able to get covered there from now on. She adds that the group Doctors Without Borders has expressed interest in helping with the case.

Thursday morning, an immigration judge set Hernandez’s bond at $15,000 after attorneys from both sides agreed she could receive better medical attention while not in custody. Her family paid the bond in New York and she's en route to stay with them there.

Now, for the cost question, which can get complicated.

The daily costs to house a federal immigration detainee vary, depending on the facility and who one asks.

For example, the Prairieland ICE facility Sara was housed at in Alvarado estimates the daily cost at $89 per detainee. It's a newer operation that just opened two months ago. If one calculates Hernandez’s time there at $89 per day for roughly two months, it’s $5,340.

But remember, she recently received enhanced medical care both at a local hospital and the facility itself, so that figure could be higher.

Plus, the mother of two has been in custody since late 2015, with most of that time spent at the Rolling Plains facility in Haskell, Texas.

Figures for that facility weren’t immediately available on Friday. A past Dallas Morning News article from 2011 pegged the cost at $70 per day, although it’s likely higher now.

If one uses a $90 figure similar to costs at Prairieland, that means Hernandez’s 13-month stay at Rolling Plains was an additional $35,000-plus, bringing the total to more than $40,000.

That figure may be drastically low, though, according to groups like the National Immigration Forum.

In an email Friday, the organization said its latest numbers suggest the daily cost nationwide to house a detainee has actually skyrocketed to about $190.

That would throw Hernandez’s detention stay north of $80,000 since her arrival.

But the forum’s policy director, Laurence Benenson, said their figures are usually calculated differently than the governments, and incorporate other factors like detainees that are housed with their children.

That wasn’t the case for Hernandez.

Bottom line: her detention cost taxpayers somewhere between $40,000 to $80,000.

There's no firm timetable for how long Hernandez’s asylum appeal will take.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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