Clinic Refuses to Treat Sick Teen


Laura knew something was wrong with her 13-year-old daughter, Alejandra.

The 37-year-old mother of four was once a nurse in Mexico. She knew Alejandra’s fever could signal something serious. The Birmingham resident gave her daughter a Tylenol and took her to a local health clinic that had treated her family in the past. She was prepared to pay.

But this visit on Nov. 8, 2011, was different. Provisions of the state’s anti-immigrant law, HB 56, were in effect.

Though Laura insisted that the clinic staff do something for Alejandra, they only took her temperature. They said that, because of HB 56, the clinic could no longer treat undocumented immigrants.

A few days later, Alejandra was rushed to a hospital emergency room, where she underwent surgery for an abdominal abscess. Laura believes that if the clinic had examined Alejandra, it may have been possible to avoid surgery. And despite claims of undocumented immigrants taking advantage of free medical treatment, Laura is facing $2,000 in medical bills.

She wonders if hospital staffers believed her daughter was getting free medical care and resented the family for it.

“Even if we asked for a glass of water they would get angry,” Laura said. “But the Americans that spoke English, they were treated well. That’s the way it was. Do they think we don’t have to pay? This isn’t free. I will pay for these bills, too, just like them.”

It’s not the only indignity the family has suffered since HB 56 became law. Alejandra said her classmates have become more hostile. Even finding a seat on the school bus has become a problem. “They say I shouldn’t be here and that they don’t want to sit with me,” she said. “This wasn’t happening to me before the law passed. It makes me mad.”

In the wake of HB 56, Laura initially kept her children out of school for two weeks, fearing they would be singled out for harassment. “My kids told me there were no [other] Hispanics at the school, so I didn’t let them go,” she said.

There have been other problems as well. Laura was robbed while waiting for a bus in Birmingham. A police report was filed, and Laura and her two daughters could receive temporary visas since she was a crime victim.

But for now, Laura and her family are trying their best to live under HB 56 and all its consequences—intentional and unintentional. The future looks difficult. Though Laura, her husband and two daughters are currently undocumented, her two sons are U.S. citizens. She worries about what could happen to her family if she’s ensnared by the law.

“I can’t go home,” she said. “I would have to split myself. Half of me can’t go with my two kids who were born in Mexico and half of me can’t stay here with the other two born here.”

Photo by Sarah P. Reynolds