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Medical deportation threatened in case of Guatemalan patient at Jefferson Torresdale

  • Catalina Jaramillo
Claudia Martinez updated press on the condition of her Uncle, hospitalized and undocumented, facing deportation.

 Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Claudia Martinez updated press on the condition of her Uncle, hospitalized and undocumented, facing deportation.

Immigration advocates say the Jefferson hospital system is planning to repatriate via private charter a Guatemalan man currently receiving uninsured treatment at one of its facilities.

According to his family, the 48-year-old North Philadelphia resident’s condition has been serious since a motorcyclist rolled over him in mid-May. He has been treated at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia since then.

David Bennion, an attorney with the Free Migration Project who is representing the family, said the hospital is violating its ethical obligations.

“They did not obtain informed consent, according to the family, either from the patient or from his family,” Bennion said. “And so they have no authority to deport him — they’re not the immigration authorities, the immigration authorities are not involved at present. And we need Jefferson Hospital to hear the community and to hear the family and not send this man to his death.”

Bennion said that the medical deportation had been planned for Wednesday morning, but that they’re hearing word it might be delayed. Immigration advocates declined to give the man’s name.

In a statement, Jefferson Hospital did not confirm the deportation plans or reveal any particulars of this case, citing federal privacy laws. But it said all decisions have the well-being of patients as a priority.

“We do not, nor would we ever, make an independent decision related to a patient’s care or their placement. While those decisions are informed by the patient’s clinical needs, final decisions are made by the patient, or if the patient cannot make such decisions, their family or legal representative,” the statement read.

Bennion articulated a different view of the situation.

“The hospital doesn’t want to pay for his ongoing care,” Bennion said. “He doesn’t have insurance, so they’re trying to do a private medical deportation. And yes, it’s expensive, and we, as a society, need to figure out how to care for the most vulnerable members of our society. But the answer is not send this man down where he’s not going to get the care that he needs.”

Family, immigration advocates and Jefferson University students rallied Wednesday outside Jefferson Torresdale until hospital guards asked them to leave, saying it was private property.

“We are asking for the hospital to give him more time until he gets better because he’s feeling now so bad, he got a brain injury, and I don’t think he’s going to be able to handle it when he goes back to our country in Guatemala,” said the man’s nephew, Dimas Xitmul Martinez. “It’s illegal too, if they’re going to deport it, I don’t think that’s fair.”

Xitmul Martinez said his uncle was rolled over by a motorcyclist on the night of May 10 and has been at Jefferson Torresdale since. His uncle has two broken legs, several fractured ribs and neurological trauma from the incident — he doesn’t recognize his relatives, is not aware he’s in a hospital and has lost his memory. He had been living in Philadelphia for about 20 years, working as a carpenter making kitchen cabinets, Xitmul Martinez said, adding that his uncle has two children and a partner living in Guatemala.

But relatives living in Philadelphia, two nieces and two nephews, worry he won’t be able to receive adequate treatment in Guatemala, especially because hospitals there are at capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic. The family said communication with Jefferson has been extremely difficult because most of them require a Spanish interpreter to understand what’s going on.

“We are all humans, and I know that he’s illegal in the United States, but I think he needs the help of the community and I think the hospital should help him instead of just deporting him in this situation right now, with the COVID-19,” Xitmul Martinez said.

Immigration advocates called this a case of medical deportation, also known as medical repatriation.

“It’s a really, really complicated and ambiguous area, not only of the law, but also of medical ethics. And I know that the American Medical Association has stated very clearly that any discharge plan for a client should under no circumstances take into account the client’s immigration status, or the patient’s ability to pay for care. And yet it seems as if that is exactly what is happening here,” said Kara Finck, of Penn Law.

Bennion said he’s never seen this before in Philadelphia, but has heard of the practice of hospitals making the decision to repatriate seriously injured or ill undocumented immigrants with no insurance in the past.

“I don’t know how many times Jefferson Hospital has done this before — how many people that should have received medical care have been sent to their deaths or long-term impairment because they didn’t get the care that they need,” he said.

Councilmembers Helen Gym and Bobby Henon went to Jefferson Torresdale Hospital on Wednesday to negotiate a deal around the possible hospital deportation. Conversations are ongoing.

WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on

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