Court Rules Previously Deported Immigrant with AIDS Cannot Re-Enter United States to Obtain Antiretrovirals
A San Francisco federal appeals court has ruled that Hector Arellano Rivera, an illegal immigrant with "an advanced case of AIDS" who had previously been deported, is not permitted to return to the United States to receive antiretroviral treatment, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Arellano, who had previously been deported after a marijuana conviction, returned to the United States through California in October 1999 because, according to Arellano's lawyer, Benjamin Lechman, he was running out of the antiretroviral drugs he had been receiving for free from a private Los Angeles-area clinic. At that time, Arellano was arrested and charged with criminal reentry. In court, Arellano, who according to Lechman had "no way" to obtain more drugs in Tijuana or "anywhere else in northern Mexico," offered the "defense that breaking the immigration law was his only chance to stay alive." The federal jury, however, "never heard about [Arellano's] need for medicine," because the trial judge ruled that Arellano "could not meet the legal standards for showing 'necessity'" to be let back into the country, the Chronicle reports. In Arellano's appeal of that ruling, the appeals court panel ruled that a necessity to return cannot be established "when a seriously ill person has the option of contacting an INS office abroad and requesting temporary legal admission," which Arellano could have done. INS spokesperson Bill Strassberger said that individuals from other countries who seek urgent medical care can apply to one of three INS offices overseas -- in Mexico City, Rome and Bangkok -- to seek "temporary admission" to the United States, but must show that they "would pose no danger to the public health and no expense to any government agency." Individuals with HIV/AIDS may apply, but those with prior drug convictions may not, he added. Despite the court's ruling that he was not permitted to reenter the country, the Chronicle says that Arellano will be held in a U.S. prison and "will probably die of AIDS ... in about a year." The Chronicle also reports that Arellano's case may be used to "shut the doors tighter on illegal immigrants with serious illness" (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.