Monday, September 25, 2006

Rising numbers of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America are streaming into Texas to give birth

James Pinkerton:

Doctors and health officials say they are overwhelmed by both the new arrivals and those immigrant mothers who already are in the state. Even Houston's feeling the pinch. An estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of the 10,587 births at Ben Taub General Hospital and Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital last year were to undocumented immigrants, administrators say.

Also feeling the strain is Starr County, an already poor South Texas county that has the region's only taxpayer-supported hospital district.

Immigrants "want a U.S.-born baby" and know that emergency room staffers don't collect any money up front, said Dr. Mario Rodriguez, an obstetrician in Starr County.

"The word is out: Come to Starr County and get delivered for free. Why pay $1,000 in Mexico when you can get it for free?" Rodriguez said.

"When we are separated only by the distance of the river, it's easy to do," Starr County hospital administrator Thalia Muñoz said. "It's gotten worse, and it's because the economy in Mexico is not good and because we provide all these benefits."

Unfortunately, doctors say, Starr County isn't alone.

"Our little snapshot is duplicated in all the municipalities between here and California," said Tony Falcon, a Rio Grande City physician who was appointed to the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission in April. "What you see here is what is happening in Brownsville, McAllen, El Paso and San Diego."

He operates a private family clinic and delivers babies at the Starr County hospital. About a third of his deliveries are what he calls "walk-ins" — mothers in labor showing up at the ER.

"Obviously, it has a huge impact on patient health and the kind of health care that's provided," Falcon said. "You don't get the kind of prenatal care you should get."

Immigration-control advocates regard the U.S.-born infants as "anchor babies" because they give their undocumented parents and relatives a way to petition for citizenship. They estimate that 360,000 of these babies are born in the U.S. every year and warn that the numbers are rising.

Once parents have an "anchor baby," they become more difficult to deport, said Jack Martin, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a lobby organization in Washington, D.C.

"It's a fairly big factor in complicating the removal of illegal aliens," Martin said. "Illegal aliens know that and, to some extent, we think they're being influenced into having children as soon as they get into the U.S. to complicate their removal."

Some lawmakers want to begin denying citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants.

Birthright citizenship, as it is known, has been in force since the approval of the Constitution's 14th Amendment in 1868. But several bills under consideration in Congress would abolish the longstanding federal policy. Sponsors include U.S. Reps. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, and Nathan Deal, R-Ga.

In a largely symbolic move, the Michigan House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Sept. 8 to end birthright citizenship.

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