Saturday, May 10, 2008

Curanderos -- The Undocumented's Underground Health System

An undocumented field laborer in the field of California's Central Valley is more likely, when injured or complaining of a stomach pain or cough, to go first to "a curandero" -- a folk healer who uses herbs, potions and incantations. Only as a last resort do they go to emergency rooms. Part of their reluctance to use to the fact the public health system is closed to them for the most part by law or by cost, part is the fact the immigrants prefer the old ways. Still a large part is the reluctance of local health systems in taking on the burden of care for them. There are clinics that will accepted the undocumented "no questions asked' and at a sliding scale of payment. But the fear that ICE is nearby always acts as a deterrent. The undocumented, largely because they underutilize the health system, are less costly then has been argued -- even the use of the emergency room which is open to them by law. An irony is that a curandero can be as expensive as a local doctor. This has often led the undocumented to self-medication. They might pick up drugs on visits back home or have friends bring them up. In either instance -- curanderos or self-medication -- is not a good system. Public health officials are worried not only about the quality of care but the dangers of infectious diseases. This is much like the drivers'-license myopia; it's ultimate impact can be on the general public. (See NY Times article.)

One way some immigrants chose to stay in the country is through weddings of convenience -- i.e., paying a US citizens to wed. A marriage license is not enough of a bona fides to convince ICE that the marriage is for real. The LA Times reports on a sweep in Orlando, Florida, that rounded up bogus husbands and wives. Some had payid as much as $10,000 for the sham wedding, a good quart of it going to the U.S. party. The wedding reception -- at least from the pictures -- had wedding cake, bridal gown, and banquet hall. All but guests, until ICE chrashed the party.

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