Last year alone, it cost Harris County taxpayers more than 97 million unreimbursed dollars to care for undocumented immigrants. Hospital District Spokeswoman Shannon Rasp says that was 14 percent of the hospital district's total operating costs last year, and it's putting the district in a serious financial bind.
"We are obligated to provide care to people who show up in our emergency centers. We do not ask them for their legal status, or illegal status, we have to have help. One way or another. We have to provide care to the residents of Harris County, and we have to continue to do that no matter what."
The hospital district's tax rate is set by Harris County Commissioners, who've pleaded with Congress for several years for reimbursement of all or some of these costs. Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, in town for meetings with local officials and community leaders on the immigration issue, says the House and Senate are miles apart on immigration reform, but some reimbursement is possible if a compromise can be worked out.
"The interesting thing of course is that in the Senate bill, if we were to have a conference, and begin to discuss how we could write this legislation, the Senate bill has a provision for reimbursing local jurisdictions and hospitals for that cost."
Lee says the competing immigration reform bills are now in a conference committee, which has the job of finding middle ground both houses and President Bush can accept, and she believes it can be done. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.