Friday, March 21, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Friday, Mar. 21, 2008

Immigrant Rights News – Friday, Mar. 21, 2008



Visit for IRN and other National Network posts.


1. The Hays Daily News: “Posthumous citizenship for US troops killed in Iraq brings conflicted feelings for families”


2. New York Times: “An Agent, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex”


3. San Diego Union-Tribune: “Company wants to build a mega-prison in county”


4. Los Angeles Times: Study highlights language barriers faced in healthcare. Limited English skills of many in L.A. County can impede access to healthcare. Activists say delays, misdiagnoses and unnecessary procedures can result when patients are not provided interpreters.”,0,7845944.story?track=ntothtml



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The Hays Daily News


Posthumous citizenship for US troops killed in Iraq brings conflicted feelings for families


Eds: For release anytime. This story is part of a package observing a grim milestone in Iraq war casualties, the 4000th US military death. The package, written to reflect that the toll is slightly below 4,000, will be updated when that number is confirmed.



AP Special Correspondent


A young, ambitious immigrant from Guatemala who dreamed of becoming an architect. A Nigerian medic. A soldier from China who boasted he would one day become an American general. An Indian native whose headstone displays the first Khanda, emblem of the Sikh faith, to appear in Arlington National Cemetery.

These were among more than 100 foreign-born members of the U.S. military who earned American citizenship by dying in Iraq.

Jose Gutierrez was one of the first to fall, killed by friendly fire in the dust of Umm Qasr in the opening hours of the invasion.

In death, the young Marine was showered with honors his family could only have dreamed of in life. His sister was flown in from Guatemala for his memorial service, where a Roman Catholic cardinal presided and top military officials saluted his flag-draped coffin.

And yet, his foster mother agonized as she accompanied his body back for burial in Guatemala City: Why did Jose have to die for America in order to truly belong?

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who oversaw Gutierrez's service, put it differently.

"There is something terribly wrong with our immigration policies if it takes death on the battlefield in order to earn citizenship," Mahony wrote to President Bush in April 2003. He urged the president to grant immediate citizenship to all immigrants who sign up for military service in wartime.

"They should not have to wait until they are brought home in a casket," Mahony said.

But as the war continues, more and more immigrants are becoming citizens in death -- and more and more families are grappling with deeply conflicting feelings about exactly what the honor means.

Gutierrez's citizenship certificate -- dated to his death on March 21, 2003, -- was presented during a memorial service in Lomita, Calif., to Nora Mosquera, who took in the orphaned teen after he had trekked through Central America, hopping freight trains through Mexico before illegally sneaking into the U.S.

"On the one hand I felt that citizenship was too late for him," Mosquera said. "But I also felt grateful and very proud of him. I knew it would open doors for us as a family."

"What use is a piece of paper?" cried Fredelinda Pena after another emotional naturalization ceremony, this one in New York City where her brother's framed citizenship certificate was handed to his distraught mother. Next to her, the infant daughter he had never met dozed in his fiancée's arms.

Cpl. Juan Alcantara, 22, a native of the Dominican Republic was killed Aug. 6, 2007 by an explosive in Baqouba. He was buried by a cardinal and eulogized by a congressman but to his sister, those tributes seemed as hollow as citizenship.

"He can't take the oath from a coffin," she sobbed.

There are tens of thousands of foreign-born members in the U.S. armed forces. Many have been naturalized, but more than 20,000 are not U.S. citizens.

"Green card soldiers," they are often called, and early in the war, Bush signed an executive order making them eligible to apply for citizenship as soon as they enlist. Previously, legal residents in the military had to wait three years.

Since Bush's order, nearly 37,000 soldiers have been naturalized. And 109 who lost their lives have been granted posthumous citizenship.

They are buried with purple hearts and other decorations, and their names are engraved on tombstones in Arlington as well as in Mexico and India and Guatemala.

Among them:

- Marine Cpl. Armando Ariel Gonzalez, 25, who fled Cuba on a raft with his father and brother in 1995 and dreamed of becoming an American firefighter. He was crushed by a refueling tank in southern Iraq on April 14, 2003.

- Army Spc. Justin Onwordi, a 28-year-old Nigerian medic whose heart seemed as big as his smiling 6-foot-4 frame and who left behind a wife and baby boy. He died when his vehicle was blown up in Baghdad on Aug. 2, 2004.

- Army Pfc. Ming Sun, 20, of China who loved the U.S. military so much he planned to make a career out of it, boasting that he would rise to the rank of general. He was killed in a firefight in Ramadi on Jan. 9, 2007.

- Army Spc. Uday Singh, 21, of India, killed when his patrol was attacked in Habbaniyah on Dec.1, 2003. Singh was the first Sikh to die in battle as a U.S. soldier, and it is his headstone at Arlington that displays the Khanda.

- Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick O'Day from Scotland, buried in the California rain as bagpipes played and his 19-year-old pregnant wife told mourners how honored her 20-year-old husband had felt to fight for the country he loved.

"He left us in the most honorable way a man could," Shauna O'Day said at the March 2003 Santa Rosa service. "I'm proud to say my husband is a Marine. I'm proud to say my husband fought for our country. I'm proud to say he is a hero, my hero."

Not all surviving family members feel so sure. Some parents blame themselves for bringing their child to the U.S. in the first place. Others face confusion and resentment when they try to bury their child back home.

At Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez's July 4, 2004, funeral in the central Mexican town of San Luis de la Paz, Mexican soldiers demanded that the U.S. Marine honor guard surrender their arms, even though the rifles were ceremonial. Earlier, the Mexican Defense Department had denied the Marines' request to conduct the traditional 21-gun salute, saying foreign troops were not permitted to bear arms on Mexican soil.

And so mourners, many deeply opposed to the war, witnessed an extraordinary 45-minute standoff that disrupted the funeral even as Lopez's weeping widow was handed his posthumous citizenship by a U.S. embassy official.

The same swirl of conflicting emotions and messages often overshadows the military funerals of posthumous citizens in the U.S.

Smuggled across the Mexican border in his mother's arms when he was 2 months old, Jose Garibay was just 21 when he died in Nasiriyah. The Costa Mesa police department made him an honorary police officer, something he had hoped one day to become. America made him a citizen.

But his mother, Simona Garibay, couldn't conceal her bewilderment and pain. It seemed, she said in interviews after the funeral, that more value was being placed on her son's death than on his life.

Immigrant advocates have similar mixed feelings about military service. Non-citizens cannot become officers or serve in high-security jobs, they note, and yet the benefits of citizenship are regularly pitched by recruiters, and some recruitment programs specifically target colleges and high schools with predominantly Latino students.

"Immigrants are lured into service and then used as political pawns or cannon fodder," said Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project, a program of the National Lawyers Guild. "It is sad thing to see people so desperate to get status in this country that they are prepared to die for it."

Others question whether non-citizens should even be permitted to serve. Mark Krikorian of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, argues that defending America should be the job of Americans, not non-citizens whose loyalty might be suspect. In granting special benefits, including fast-track citizenship, Krikorian says, there is a danger that soldiering will eventually become yet another job that Americans won't do.

And yet, immigrants have always fought -- and died -- in America's wars.

During the Cvil War, the Union army recruited Irish and German immigrants off the boat. Alfred Rascon, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, received the Medal of Honor for acts of bravery during the Vietnam war. In the 1990s, Gen. John Shalikashvili, born in Poland after his family fled the occupied Republic of Georgia, became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After the Iraq invasion, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico fielded hundreds of requests from Mexicans offering to fight in exchange for citizenship. They mistakenly believed that Bush's order also applied to nonresidents.

The right to become an American is not automatic for those who die in combat. Families must formally apply for citizenship within two years of the soldier's death, and not all choose to do so.

"He's Italian, better to leave it like that," Saveria Romeo says of her 23-year-old son, Army Staff Sgt. Vincenzo Romeo who was born in Calabria, died in Iraq and is buried in New Jersey. A miniature Italian flag marks his grave, next to an American one.

"What good would it do?" she says. "It won't bring back my son."

But it would allow her to apply for citizenship for herself, a benefit only recently offered to surviving parents and spouses. Until 2003 posthumous citizenship was granted only through an act of Congress and was purely symbolic. There were no benefits for next of kin.

Romeo says she has no desire to apply. She couldn't bear to benefit in any way from her son's death, she says. And besides, she feels Italian, not American.

Fernando Suarez del Solar just feels angry -- angry at what he considers the futility of a war that claimed his only son, angry at the military recruiters he says courted young Jesus relentlessly even when the family still lived in Tijuana.

His son was just 13, Suarez del Solar said, when he was first dazzled by Marine recruiters in a California mall. For the next two years Jesus begged the family to emigrate and eventually they did, settling in Escondido, Calif., where the teen signed up for the Marines before he left high school.

Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez Del Solar was 20 when he was killed by a bomb in the first week of the war. He left behind a wife and baby and parents so bitter about his death that they eventually divorced.

Today, his 52-year-old father has become an outspoken peace activist who travels the country organizing anti-war marches, giving speeches and working with counter-recruitment groups to dissuade young Latinos from joining the U.S. military.

"There is nothing in my life now but saving these young people," he says. "It is just something I feel have to do."

But first he had to journey to Iraq. He had to see for himself the dusty stretch of wasteland where his son became an American. In tears, he planted a small wooden cross. And he prayed for his son -- and for all the other immigrants who became citizens in death.



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New York Times


March 21, 2008


An Agent, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex



No problems so far, the immigration agent told the American citizen and his 22-year-old Colombian wife at her green card interview in December. After he stapled one of their wedding photos to her application for legal permanent residency, he had just one more question: What was her cellphone number?

The calls from the agent started three days later. He hinted, she said, at his power to derail her life and deport her relatives, alluding to a brush she had with the law before her marriage. He summoned her to a private meeting. And at noon on Dec. 21, in a parked car on Queens Boulevard, he named his price — not realizing that she was recording everything on the cellphone in her purse.

“I want sex,” he said on the recording. “One or two times. That’s all. You get your green card. You won’t have to see me anymore.”

She reluctantly agreed to a future meeting. But when she tried to leave his car, he demanded oral sex “now,” to “know that you’re serious.” And despite her protests, she said, he got his way.

The 16-minute recording, which the woman first took to The New York Times and then to the Queens district attorney, suggests the vast power of low-level immigration law enforcers, and a growing desperation on the part of immigrants seeking legal status. The aftermath, which included the arrest of an immigration agent last week, underscores the difficulty and danger of making a complaint, even in the rare case when abuse of power may have been caught on tape.

No one knows how widespread sexual blackmail is, but the case echoes other instances of sexual coercion that have surfaced in recent years, including agents criminally charged in Atlanta, Miami and Santa Ana, Calif. And it raises broader questions about the system’s vulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of noncitizens live in a kind of legal no-man’s land, increasingly fearful of seeking the law’s protection.

The agent arrested last week, Isaac R. Baichu, 46, himself an immigrant from Guyana, handled some 8,000 green card applications during his three years as an adjudicator in the Garden City, N.Y., office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the federal Department of Homeland Security. He pleaded not guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges of coercing the young woman to perform oral sex, and of promising to help her secure immigration papers in exchange for further sexual favors. If convicted, he will face up to seven years in prison.

His agency has suspended him with pay, and the inspector general of Homeland Security is reviewing his other cases, a spokesman said Wednesday. Prosecutors, who say they recorded a meeting between Mr. Baichu and the woman on March 11 at which he made similar demands for sex, urge any other victims to come forward.

Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption in immigration, but according to Congressional testimony in 2006 by Michael Maxwell, former director of the agency’s internal investigations, more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employee misconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528 involving criminal allegations.

The agency says it has tripled its investigative staff since then, and counts only 165 serious complaints pending. But it stopped posting an e-mail address and phone number for such complaints last year, said Jan Lane, chief of security and integrity, because it lacks the staff to cull the thousands of mostly irrelevant messages that resulted. Immigrants, she advised, should report wrongdoing to any law enforcement agency they trust.

The young woman in Queens, whose name is being withheld because the authorities consider her the victim of a sex crime, did not even tell her husband what had happened. Two weeks after the meeting in the car, finding no way to make a confidential complaint to the immigration agency and afraid to go to the police, she and two older female relatives took the recording to The Times.

Reasons to Worry

A slim, shy woman who looks like a teenager, she said she had spent recent months baby-sitting for relatives in Queens, crying over the deaths of her two brothers back in Cali, Colombia, and longing for the right stamp in her passport — one that would let her return to the United States if she visited her family.

She came to the United States on a tourist visa in 2004 and overstayed. When she married an American citizen a year ago, the law allowed her to apply to “adjust” her illegal status. But unless her green card application was approved, she could not visit her parents or her brothers’ graves and then legally re-enter the United States. And if her application was denied, she would face deportation.

She had another reason to be fearful, and not only for herself. About 15 months ago, she said, an acquaintance hired her and two female relatives in New York to carry $12,000 in cash to the bank. The three women, all living in the country illegally, were arrested on the street by customs officers apparently acting on a tip in a money-laundering investigation. After determining that the women had no useful information, the officers released them.

But the closed investigation file had showed up in the computer when she applied for a green card, Mr. Baichu told her in December; until he obtained the file and dealt with it, her application would not be approved. If she defied him, she feared, he could summon immigration enforcement agents to take her relatives to detention.

So instead of calling the police, she turned on the video recorder in her cellphone, put the phone in her purse and walked to meet the agent. Two family members said they watched anxiously from their parked car as she disappeared behind the tinted windows of his red Lexus.

“We were worried that the guy would take off, take her away and do something to her,” the woman’s widowed sister-in-law said in Spanish.

As the recorder captured the agent’s words and a lilting Guyanese accent, he laid out his terms in an easy, almost paternal style. He would not ask too much, he said: sex “once or twice,” visits to his home in the Bronx, perhaps a link to other Colombians who needed his help with their immigration problems.

In shaky English, the woman expressed reluctance, and questioned how she could be sure he would keep his word.

“If I do it, it’s like very hard for me, because I have my husband, and I really fall in love with him,” she said.

The agent insisted that she had to trust him. “I wouldn’t ask you to do something for me if I can’t do something for you, right?” he said, and reasoned, “Nobody going to help you for nothing,” noting that she had no money.

He described himself as the single father of a 10-year-old daughter, telling her, “I need love, too,” and predicting, “You will get to like me because I’m a nice guy.”

Repeatedly, she responded “O.K.,” without conviction. At one point he thanked her for showing up, saying, “I know you feel very scared.”

Finally, she tried to leave. “Let me go because I tell my husband I come home,” she said.

His reply, the recording shows, was a blunt demand for oral sex.

“Right now? No!” she protested. “No, no, right now I can’t.”

He insisted, cajoled, even empathized. “I came from a different country, too,” he said. “I got my green card just like you.”

Then, she said, he grabbed her. During the speechless minute that follows on the recording, she said she yielded to his demand out of fear that he would use his authority against her.

How Much Corruption?

The charges against Mr. Baichu, who became a United States citizen in 1991 and earns roughly $50,000 a year, appear to be part of a larger pattern, according to government records and interviews.

Mr. Maxwell, the immigration agency’s former chief investigator, told Congress in 2006 that internal corruption was “rampant,” and that employees faced constant temptations to commit crime.

“It is only a small step from granting a discretionary waiver of an eligibility rule to asking for a favor or taking a bribe in exchange for granting that waiver,” he contended. “Once an employee learns he can get away with low-level corruption and still advance up the ranks, he or she becomes more brazen.”

Mr. Maxwell’s own deputy, Lloyd W. Miner, 49, of Hyattsville, Md., turned out to be an example. He was sentenced March 7 to a year in prison for inducing a 21-year-old Mongolian woman to stay in the country illegally, and harboring her in his house.

Other cases include that of a 60-year-old immigration adjudicator in Santa Ana, Calif., who was charged with demanding sexual favors from a 29-year-old Vietnamese woman in exchange for approving her citizenship application. The agent, Eddie Romualdo Miranda, was acquitted of a felony sexual battery charge last August, but pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to probation.

In Atlanta, another adjudicator, Kelvin R. Owens, was convicted in 2005 of sexually assaulting a 45-year-old woman during her citizenship interview in the federal building, and sentenced to weekends in jail for six months. And a Miami agent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement responsible for transporting a Haitian woman to detention is awaiting trial on charges that he took her to his home and raped her.

“Despite our best efforts there are always people ready to use their position for personal gain or personal pleasure,” said Chris Bentley, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. “Our responsibility is to ferret them out.”

When the Queens woman came to The Times with her recording on Jan. 3, she was afraid of retaliation from the agent, and uncertain about making a criminal complaint, though she had an appointment the next day at the Queens district attorney’s office.

She followed through, however, and Carmencita Gutierrez, an assistant district attorney, began monitoring phone calls between the agent and the young woman, a spokesman said. When Mr. Baichu arranged to meet the woman on March 11 at the Flagship Restaurant on Queens Boulevard, investigators were ready.

In the conversation recorded there, according to the criminal complaint, Mr. Baichu told her he expected her to do “just like the last time,” and offered to take her to a garage or the bathroom of a friend’s real estate business so she would be “more comfortable doing it” there.

Mr. Baichu was arrested as he emerged from the diner and headed to his car, wearing much gold and diamond jewelry, prosecutors said. Later released on $15,000 bail, Mr. Baichu referred calls for comment to his lawyer, Sally Attia, who said he did not have authority to grant or deny green card petitions without his supervisor’s approval.

The young woman’s ordeal is not over. Her husband overheard her speaking about it to a cousin about a month ago, and she had to tell him the whole story, she said.

“He was so mad at me, he left my house,” she said, near tears. “I don’t know if he’s going to come back.”

The green card has not come through. “I’m still hoping,” she said.

Angelica Medaglia contributed reporting.


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San Diego Union-Tribune


Company wants to build a mega-prison in county


By Leslie Berestein Leslie Berestein: (619) 542-4579


March 20, 2008

The private prison company that operates a detention center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Otay Mesa is proposing to build a nearly 3,000-bed mega-prison nearby.

According to county records, Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America has applied for a permit to build a “secure detention facility” in two phases on a parcel of about 40 acres northwest of Alta and Lonestar roads. A portion of the latter road has yet to be constructed.

The proposed prison would have 2,880 beds and would employ 375 people, according to an application the company filed.

It would hold more than four times the number of people that the immigration agency now holds in San Diego. The agency, known as ICE, contracts with Corrections Corporation of America to house up to 700 detainees – individuals awaiting deportation or a decision in immigration cases – at the company's private San Diego Correctional Facility, which sits on land leased from the county.

A spokesman for the company said the proposed prison would not be built as part of its existing contract with ICE or as a speculative venture, but as a way of ensuring it retains the immigration agency's detention business if the company loses its existing facility. The lease on the land that the San Diego Correctional Facility sits on is set to expire by the end of 2015.

“We have an existing relationship with ICE and other federal customers, and we want to be able to maintain that relationship,” company spokesman Steven Owen said. “We want to take steps in a preventive kind of way, to be able to provide capacity and retain that relationship.”

According to the county, the company owns the parcel that the new facility would sit on, eliminating lease concerns.

Local officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they were aware of the project, but that they were not sure if ICE would be using the new prison.

The demand for immigration detention beds definitely exists in San Diego, not only due to stepped-up immigration enforcement nationwide, but also because the agency does not have as many beds as it once did at the San Diego Correctional Facility.

According to Corrections Corporation of America's 2006 year-end financial report, 200 of the detention center's beds were lost to the county in June of that year when a portion of the lease expired. The report states that the number of people being held was not reduced as a result of the expiration because “we had the ability to consolidate inmates.”

Less than a year later, in January 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union sued ICE and the company, alleging overcrowding at the facility. The ACLU said two-person cells were crammed with three civil detainees, the third sleeping on the floor in a plastic cot.

Since then, the Otay Mesa facility has held a maximum of 700 detainees a day, where it once held as many as 1,000, said Lauren Mack, an ICE spokeswoman in San Diego.

“As long as apprehensions continue to increase, we're going to continue to need not only bed space, but to identify ways to streamline the entire detention process,” Mack said.

Owen said it has still not been determined if the prison will be built. According to county records, the company filed its initial application for a specific plan amendment and major use permit in July 2006, a month after the first part of the county lease expired. Records show the company has since been working to complete various studies required before the project can go to the county's planning commission.

If built, the new facility would be enormous, with administrative space as well as prison housing and services. The nearby state prison, the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility, was designed to hold 2,280, according to the state corrections department Web site, though it now houses 4,770.

Rob Hixson, a commercial real estate broker who is chairman of the city of San Diego's Otay Mesa Planning Committee, said he had not heard any complaints among those aware of the proposed prison on nearby unincorporated land.

“A lot of people say 'not in my backyard,' but this is a pretty big backyard,” Hixson said. “It is a long way from any of our housing.” With upward of 30,000 immigrants now in ICE custody – up from about 18,500 three years ago – Immigration and Customs Enforcement has increasingly turned to private contractors to house detainees.

The relationship has not come without criticism. In addition to the overcrowding lawsuit, the ACLU sued both Corrections Corporation of America and ICE again last summer, alleging severely inadequate medical care at the Otay Mesa facility.

A former detainee at the Otay Mesa facility filed a separate lawsuit in Los Angeles last year against the federal government, claiming that he was denied treatment for what turned out to be penile cancer. He died last month. Last week, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that his family can go forward with a lawsuit seeking damages from the federal government.

Leslie Berestein: (619) 542-4579;


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Los Angeles Times


Study highlights language barriers faced in healthcare

Limited English skills of many in L.A. County can impede access to healthcare. Activists say delays, misdiagnoses and unnecessary procedures can result when patients are not provided interpreters.,0,7845944.story?track=ntothtml


By Teresa Watanabe

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 21, 2008


Edna Gutierrez said she was biopsied for cancer on the wrong breast.

Martha Castro recalled helplessly watching her daughter's uncontrollable seizures, unable to understand the doctor's English.

And Lian Zhen Li, suffering from excruciating abdominal pain that turned out to be ovarian cancer, said Los Angeles County hospital staff told her to come back with someone who could interpret for her.

The three Southern California immigrants reflect the widespread problem -- and the potentially devastating consequences -- of language barriers in healthcare. The problem's massive scope was illuminated Thursday, when the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles released a new study documenting the language barriers faced by nearly one in three Los Angeles County residents, or 2.5 million people.

The data, based on the 2000 census, show that most of residents in five of the county's eight service planning areas -- which are used to plan and deliver health and social services -- speak a language other than English at home. The top languages spoken are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Korean, Armenian, Vietnamese, Persian, Japanese and Russian.

The largest number of limited-English speakers are in the San Gabriel Valley, totaling 482,310, including roughly 200,000 Mexicans and 100,000 Chinese. In the metro Los Angeles area, which includes downtown and other core areas of the city, the primary language spoken by 70% of residents is not English and 43% reported speaking limited English, the county's highest rate.

Despite the broad need -- and federal legal requirements for language assistance -- immigrant advocates said Thursday that scores of patients still fall through the cracks. The result is delayed care, misdiagnoses and unnecessary procedures leading in some cases to death, advocates said.

"We want to shine a spotlight on how large a problem this is," said Karin Wang, the Asian Pacific center's vice president of programs. "We don't want language to be the reason people don't get quality healthcare."

Miya Iwataki, director of diversity programs for the county Department of Health Services, said the language needs in the county's four public hospitals were "overwhelming." In 2006, 49% of the system's 3.9 million patient visits involved people with limited English skills who primarily spoke one of 98 languages. Spanish speakers accounted for 1.9 million visits, followed by 17,000 visits by Korean speakers.

But Iwataki said county language services have improved in the last year. This year, nine full-time healthcare interpreters will be hired for the first time for the hospitals.

In addition, the county expanded its video medical interpretation system to all four hospitals this year. The system, which was introduced at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center in Downey last year, uses video-conferencing technology to connect doctors and patients with an interpreter network that offers assistance in Armenian, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese.

County hospitals also use a phone-in interpreter system. But that system is flawed, according to Wingshan Lo of the Asian Pacific center. Lo said she tested the system last year and was hooked up to a language assistance center whose staffer did not understand the Cantonese she was speaking.

In addition, immigrant advocates said many hospital staff are not aware that healthcare providers who receive federal funding are legally required to offer language assistance, regardless of the patients' immigration status. PALS for Health, a Los Angeles nonprofit organization that provides language assistance, gets several complaints every month about healthcare providers who tell patients they need to find their own interpreters, according to Marchela Iahdjian of the organization.

Iwataki agreed that more needs to be done but said impending budget cuts could make that difficult.

"We are struggling to do our best with very limited resources, but we're not giving up," she said.

The case of Li, the Chinese native with ovarian cancer, illustrates the plight faced by many immigrants. Li, 62, is a naturalized U.S. citizen but said she has long lived in an isolated ethnic enclave in Alhambra. Too busy to take English classes, she was an around-the-clock personal assistant to a Chinese senior citizen for several years, then worked 15-hour days at a Chinese restaurant. She watches Chinese TV and shops at Chinese stores.

Li said she never needed English -- until her abdomen suddenly began swelling painfully in June 2005 and her Chinese doctor referred her to County-USC Medical Center. There, she couldn't communicate with the doctors. "I was petrified by my inability to communicate," Li said. "I thought I was going to die. I wondered: Who is going to help me?"

Li said she wandered into the hospital waiting room and randomly asked an Asian-looking patient if she could speak Chinese. Luckily for her, the patient could -- and referred Li to the PALS for Health group, which sent a trained healthcare interpreter with her to future appointments. Although initially told that she had only a month to live, she said her cancer has stopped spreading after surgery and chemotherapy.

Immigrant advocates urged the county to provide more English-language classes and interpretation services.

"There's no excuse not to provide these services," said Doreena P. Wong, staff attorney with the National Health Law Program. "People's lives are at stake."



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Arnoldo Garcia

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados

310 8th Street Suite 303

Oakland, CA 94607

Tel (510) 465-1984 ext. 305

Fax (510) 465-1885


Join HURRICANE: the human rights immigrant community action network -- help build community power for justice & human rights!


At 8:34 PM, Blogger Stanley said...

What I wonder about human rights is this: where do they intersect with civil rights? And is one a subset of the other in all cases? what about legitimate conflicts of interest? These are all questions plagued by CIR, and so we should turn to programs such as the eb5 visa program to help immigrants and to create jobs at home.


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