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Proposed Migrant Survival Kit Ignites Row

By JULIE WEISE

The News Staff Reporter
5/18/01

The Presidential Office for Mexicans abroad on Thursday said reports the Mexican government would begin providing survival kits to potential migrants were inaccurate.

"Social Security (IMSS) proposed it, but at this moment it does not exist," said Omar de la Torre, an adviser to migrant affairs chief Juan Hernandez.

Several California newspapers on Wednesday reported the Mexican government would provide the kits, containing such items as anti-dehydration powder and snakebite antidotes, to aid migrants on their often-perilous border crossings. Approximately 500 migrants have died each year since 1996, when the Clinton Administration instituted measures designed to beef up border security.

The reported initiative to provide the kits won praise from human rights groups but drew fire from anti-immigrant groups north of the border.

A U.S. Border Patrol spokeswoman surprised many by saying she would support the plan as "another avenue toward preventing deaths along our border."

De la Torre, however, said the plan may or may not come to pass. IMSS already distributes first aid kits in rural areas, he said; the proposal cited in the newspaper reports simply intended to expand the kits to include products of use to migrants. These expanded kits would be distributed in areas noted as migrant "sending zones."

Hernandez's office did confirm, however, reports of a massive joint effort with the state of Arizona to boost migrant health and safety. The two entities have agreed to study mechanisms to slash the cost of medical care for undocumented immigrants, following the footsteps of California.

According to Arizona officials, more than 100 million dollars are spent annually to pay private and public hospitals that provide medical treatment for immigrants. Hernandez said the system would be financed by private funds, government news agency Notimex reported.

"The governor (Jane Hall) reiterated her concern over the high cost of medical care for undocumented immigrants who are in no position to pay the bill," Hernandez said. He added that under the Mexico-California Health Commission, insurance companies can offer medical coverage to agricultural workers on both sides of the border, including many who entered the United States illegally.

According to Hernandez, the Californian fund totals some 50 million dollars.


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