Mexican Consulates Expand Health Care Program in U.S.
Mexican consulates in the U.S. are implementing a program called Ventanillas de Salud, or Health Windows, that gives undocumented Mexican immigrants access to basic health information and services without the risk of being reported to immigration officials, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The program was founded in 2003 as an experimental collaboration between the Mexican government and the University of California's Health Initiative of the Americas program and originally funded by a grant from the California Endowment.
Ventanillas offers undocumented immigrants preventive tests, such as for cholesterol, and also provides referrals to hospitals, clinics and government programs where they can receive treatment "without fear of being turned over to immigration authorities," according to the Times.
The program currently has offices in 11 U.S. cities and eventually aims to be in all 47 Mexican consulates in the country.
Health services to undocumented immigrants cost California's Medi-Cal program $1.1 billion last year, including $440 million in Los Angeles County, according to the California Department of Health Services. Thus far, the program has provided 286,000 Mexicans in Los Angeles with health information and referrals, and 12,000 have received care from sources they learned about through Ventanillas.
Although undocumented immigrants cannot enroll in Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program, federal law requires that state Medicaid programs cover emergency care for undocumented immigrants who otherwise would qualify for the program.
The federal Women, Infants and Children program gives all pregnant women and infants in the U.S. access to immunization and nutritional benefits, and some publicly funded programs reimburse hospitals for care of the uninsured, including undocumented immigrants. Many community clinics also provide basic health care services regardless of immigration status.
Ruben Beltran, a Mexican consul general in Los Angeles, said the Ventanillas program saves the U.S. money by encouraging immigrants to seek preventive care, rather than waiting until they need costlier emergency care when their conditions worsen. "Health-related issues are a very important absent piece of information," Beltran said, adding, "We're filling the blanks. ... The consulate is the prime location to disseminate that information to the Mexican community."
However, critics of the program say it grants undocumented immigrants access to benefits supported by taxpayers, according to the Times.
Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said, "It facilitates people remaining in the country illegally. Clearly, it is a policy of the Mexican government ... to get all the institutions in the U.S. to provide services to their citizens who are living here illegally" (Alonso-Zaldivar/Gorman, Los Angeles Times, 5/31).