Smith County Illegal Immigrants Not Eligible For Emergency Care Money

Opinions are strong as the debate continues: Do you want your money to pay for the health care of an illegal alien?  Tuesday night, we showed you the debate in Gregg County over the issue of immigrant health care.

We got a huge response from folks who have strong feelings over this issue.

Now, we look at the situation in Smith County. Hundreds, if not thousands of illegal immigrants need health care, but can't afford it.

Nic Sciarrini, director of the Northeast Texas Public Health District: "Smith County, just as many counties in Northeast Texas, has a significant amount of people who are uninsured. Most of them are working people."

Some are illegal immigrants. The District is on the front lines, with state and local money, trying to prevent people from getting sick.

"At this point, the state doesn't require any of the grantholders that question 'Are you illegal, documented, or undocumented?'" he says.

The District offers clinics and preventative measures but just non-emergency care. They got $600,000 this year from Smith County, and much more from the state.  And the care is not restricted to legal immigrants. Everyone is eligible based on income.

"Right now, there's no way to tell someone how many dollars go to immigrant care because we don't have records that show that. We're not required to," Sciarrini says.

But in an emergency,  it's Lucy Aydelott's job now to make sure taxpayers take care of those who are legal only.

Aydelott is director of ETMC Indigent Health Services.  East Texas Medical Center is one hospital that provides indigent care in Smith County.  They administer indigent care dollars allocated by Smith County Commissioners.  How that money is distributed is under commissioners' direct control.

"We do require current ID, Texas drivers license, voter registration card. We ask them for a social secuirty card," Aydelott says.

That weeds out anyone who's not here legally.  It hasn't always been that way. In previous years, Aydelott says approximately five percent of clients getting help from the Smith County Indigent Fund were illegal immigrants.  At the beginning of this year, county commissioners chose to exclude those here illegally.

Feelings are strong in the East Texas community. Folks are weighing cost versus care for their fellow man.

"Being that they're illegal immigrants, our tax dollars should not be used to take care of them, but on the other hand they're human too," says one Tyler man.

"For those people who really need it, [the government] should pay for it, but if someone wants to take advantage of it, it's not right," says another.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has ruled that illegal immigrants can receive public health benefits, but that it cannot be paid for by state funds.

The Health District's Nic Sciarrini says state grants fund much of the care given by the district. He says he won't take action until the state departments that award those grants tell him to start screening for illegal immigrants; and stop offering them service.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.