That Santillan Saga: Lies, Damned Lies, Immigration Enthusiasts and Neosocialist Health Bureaucrats
May 31, 2003, 05:00 AM
A+
|
a-
Print Friendly and PDF

Remember Jesica Santillan? (Think back before the Iraq war.) She was the 17-year-old Mexican illegal alien who died in February after Duke University Medical Center bungled her heart-lung transplant.

Recently, Duke University announced that it is establishing a $4 million "perpetual fund" in Santillan's memory. Duke said the fund would finance "additional support services for Latino pediatric patients and their families receiving treatment at Duke."

Wait a minute! What about equal protection? Aren't ordinary Americans eligible for these "additional support services" too?

Fuhgeddaboutitit! Duke's press release features (in English and Spanish) this imprimatur from Mexico's consul in North Carolina, Armando Ortiz-Rocha:

"This is a wonderful idea because members of the Latino community face special cultural and language barriers. The Government of Mexico considers the creation of this fund as a major step in paying tribute to Jesica's memory."

Wow–the Government of Mexico!

So that's OK, then!

(Email Nannerl Keohane, President of Duke University [ president@duke.edu] and tell her how much you approve).

One small question: doesn't the "Latino community" face these "barriers" because they've chosen to immigrate to an English-speaking country–to a significant extent, in violation of that country's laws?

Why should they also get privileged access to health care–paid for by Americans?

The truth, of course, is that privileged access, paid for by Americans, was the subtext of the entire Santillan saga. More than 75,000 Americans are on the federal transplant waiting list. Only 24,000 organs are available each year. Each year, while on the waiting list, more than 5,300 people die.

So why give any organs at all to someone who is in the U.S. illegally?

Needless to say, no-one in the establishment media had the guts to raise this unpleasant question–except Michelle Malkin.

But it must have been percolating out there in the Black Lagoon of Middle America.  Thus the Associated Press felt compelled to run a damage-control story: the answer, it implied, is that illegal aliens donate more organs than they use! ("Some immigrants get fewer organs than they donate," March 2)

This striking revelation apparently originated in a March 2 El Paso Times piece. "Mexican teen's death stirs debate," by Diana Washington Valdez [email her]. Valdez claimed so-called "undocumented immigrants" represented 2% of donors but received only 1% of transplants in 2001. Moreover, she asserted, they aren't allowed more than 5% of transplants.

(The AP rewrite of Valdez' story originally went even further. It reported that twice as many "undocumented immigrants" donate organs as receive them–on the false assumption that twice the rate means twice the number. Rate–number. Think about it. The story itself refuted that: it said that 124 undocumented immigrants donated organs in 2001, while 258 received them. The Houston Chronicle Online picked this version up and it was circulated widely–by Charles Fiske, a Boston man who spreads news on transplantation–before some less innumerate editor at AP spotted the obvious error and fixed it.)

The corrected AP version appeared in at least one other paper: the Dallas Morning News ("Transplants for immigrants relatively low," March 3,) It too asserted that illegal immigrants donate 2% of transplants while receiving only 1%, and that non-citizens aren't allowed more than 5% of transplants.

All of which makes a good, politically-correct story.

Needless to say, it isn't true.

Not, that is, according to the alleged source of those very numbers, the United Network for Organ Sharing, the powerful Richmond, Va. not-for-profit contractor that has effectively cartelized the organ business under neosocialist 1984 federal legislation championed by then-Senator Al Gore. (See "The Organ King," by Brigid McMenamin, Forbes Magazine, Nov. 1, 1999).

UNOS spokeswoman Anne Paschke [email her] has told VDARE.COM that UNOS just doesn't know how many illegal aliens give or get organs. UNOS simply doesn't keep track of that.

So where did the El Paso Times' Valdez get those numbers? Turns out they were based on UNOS data for "nonresident aliens"–non-citizens who are in the U.S. legally–on temporary visas for, say, tourism or education.

Not illegal aliens at all. Oops!

Actually, some, but by no means all, of those supposed temporary visa holders probably are illegal aliens. And UNOS knows it.  The reason: as Paschke admitted to VDARE.COM, UNOS lets illegal aliens masquerade as visa holders when seeking organs.

That way you can't tell by looking at the books how many illegals are getting organs–or even that it's going on at all.

Of course, a little immigration lingo should not have tripped up Valdez. She covers "border affairs" for the El Paso Times and claims plenty of experience writing about immigration. 

But, when we asked her, Valdez blamed Paschke for failing to explain that "nonresident alien" isn't the same thing as "illegal."

Paschke insists she did explain.

As it happens, another of Valdez's sources has told us that she explained the difference too: Pam Silvestri [email her], spokeswoman for Southwest Transplant Alliance, the Dallas not-for-profit that holds the local federal monopoly on harvesting organs from cadavers in the El Paso area.

Silvestri also denies telling Valdez that 10% of the organs come from illegal aliens. She says Southwest doesn't track that.

"That's fine if they want to say that, but it's not true," says Silvestri.

What about Valdez' claim in her El Paso Times article that UNOS won't let illegal aliens take more than 5% of all transplants?

That's not true either.

That 5% limit applies only to lawful nonresident aliens. And it's just a guideline. Doctors can exceed it if they have a good reason.

Moreover, there's no limit for permanent resident aliens–"green card holders"–who took 2.3% of all transplants in 2001.

There is no overall limit on the total number of organs that can go to non-citizens.

Nor is there any limit on patients whose citizenship status is not reported.

In effect, the transplant system is set up to make it appear that a limited number of organs is available to non-citizens and that illegal aliens don't get organs at all. But in reality, they can have as many as they can afford–unless they actually admit holding temporary visas.

So the El Paso Times and AP stories didn't explain why UNOS lets illegal aliens have organs. All they did was leave readers with a false impression about the situation.  

Other papers ran stories on the issue. The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer, ("Access to donor organs for non-citizens long a topic of debate," by Christina Headrick and Vicki Cheng, March 1) claimed that people from other countries are allowed only 5% of the organs. (Wrong). The Washington Post ("U.S. Citizens Get More Organs Than They Give," by Shankar Vedantam, March 3) implied that the system tracks and limits the number of organs illegals can get. (Also wrong.)

What's going on here?

VDARE.COM's explanation: UNOS has a good thing going. Nominally a public watchdog, it has become in effect a trade association. It doesn't want its members i.e. Duke Medical Center embarrassed. So it tried to plant a damage-control story justifying transplanting illegal aliens. That appealed to Valdez–but she messed up the story trying to translate it into the politically-correct lingo of the El Paso Times.

What's really significant: nobody shows the slightest interest in retraction.

Certainly not the El Paso Times, which didn't run a correction until we called about the error–and then only further muddled the issue:

"The United Network for Organ Sharing does not use 'undocumented immigrant' to refer to an organ recipient or donor who is not a U.S. citizen, as a story on organ transplants in Sunday's El Paso Times implied. The network uses 'U.S. citizen,'  'resident alien' and 'nonresident alien' for immigration status. The 10 percent of organ donors who are not U.S. citizens applies to the El Paso region only, and is not a nationwide rate."

That's no correction. It doesn't tell you what was wrong with the story. It only misleads you to believe that the error was suggesting that UNOS uses "undocumented" to mean non-citizen. But in reality, the story falsely claimed that UNOS data show that the percentage of illegal aliens who donate organs is twice the percentage who receive them. 

UNOS isn't interested in setting the record straight either.  It has not done so on its web site, although it has done with other stories it dislikes, like Brigid McMenamin's Forbes story cited above.

UNOS hasn't even bothered to write a letter the El Paso Times correcting the error. Paschke says there's no need for her to write a letter because Pam Silvestri promised to write one. 

Sounds plausible–until you hear what Silvestri said in her letter to the El Paso Times: "I wrote a letter to the editor saying I thought they did a great job," Silvestri told VDARE.COM.

Ditto to the Dallas Morning News.

Instead of pointing out that Valdez's story was just plain wrong, Silvestri praised it.

Ah yes. As I used to say, paraphrasing Erich Segal, back in the days when National Review dared criticize immigration policy: being an immigration enthusiast (and, apparently, a health bureaucrat) means never having to say you're sorry.

Not even when, because of your enthusiasm, other Americans die.