An immigrant woman who went to a women’s health clinic in Texas for her annual OB-GYN exam is now facing potential deportation after the clinic staff turned her over to authorities for allegedly presenting a fake ID.
According to the Houston Press, Blanca Borrego went to the Northeast Women’s Healthcare clinic this month for a routine gynecological exam. Borrego was a first-time visitor to the clinic and was hoping to see an OB-GYN there who had previously examined her. She spent nearly two hours in the waiting room with her two daughters.
But when Borrego was finally called into an exam room, she was met not by her doctor, but by local law enforcement authorities.
The clinic staff say that Borrego — an undocumented immigrant whose visa reportedly lapsed 12 years ago — used a fake ID when she was filling out her her health care paperwork. They alerted the authorities, who came to the clinic and arrested her. Just minutes later, Borrego’s oldest daughter says she watched her mother being led out in handcuffs.
According to her attorney, Borrego is now facing one felony count of “tampering with a government record” after deputies found a fake Social Security card in her purse.
Immigrant rights advocates are pointing to the arrest as an example of the ways in which immigrant women — and, particularly, Latina women who live in Texas — struggle to get the basic health care they need because they’re often afraid of going to the doctor.
“Blanca Borrego’s arrest — which took place in the middle of a visit to her doctor — is a tragic reminder of the ways our flawed immigration laws make it difficult for immigrant women and families to live with dignity and health,” Jessica González-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), said in a statement provided to RH Reality Check.
As GOP lawmakers in Texas have decimated the state’s family planning network, slashing state funds to Planned Parenthood and forcing health clinics to close, more Texas women now say they face barriers getting the reproductive health care they need.
The situation has become particularly dire for vulnerable immigrant communities. Now that fewer clinics remain open, for instance, women are being forced to travel longer distances to get to the nearest doctor — which forces some of them to pass through internal border checkpoints where they could be detained by immigration officials. Rather than risking it, some immigrant women are simply forgoing their appointments altogether — even after potential warning signs of trouble, like receiving abnormal Pap results or feeling lumps in their breasts.
Missing out on these health services can have dire consequences for women of color in Texas. Latinas have the highest rates of cervical cancer of any ethnic group in the United States. And, thanks to the cultural gaps that prevent many immigrant women from feeling comfortable talking about their sexual health with doctors they don’t know very well, they also struggle with high rates of sexually transmitted infections.
According to advocacy groups working on the ground in Texas, the situation has become so dire for immigrant women that it should be considered a human rights crisis. Representatives from the Center for Reproductive Rights have even traveled to Geneva to testify in front of the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee, arguing that the situation facing Texans violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the United States has ratified.
In general, undocumented immigrants seek health services less frequently than the rest of the U.S. population specifically because they’re worried their doctor will turn them over to law enforcement authorities. Though federal privacy laws technically prevent immigration officials from accessing patient health records, that’s little comfort to people who have grown up afraid of coming into any contact with medical professionals. According to UCLA researchers who recently conducted focus groups on the subject, undocumented immigrants in California say that “you learn early on to avoid going to the doctor.”
“It’s a basic human right to be able to get medical care,” Clarissa Guajardo, the attorney representing Borrego, told the Houston Press. “It wasn’t like she was getting public assistance, even. She had an established doctor-patient relationship with that gynecologist. This shouldn’t have happened like this.”