ALVARADO, Texas - The legal battle over an undocumented immigrant with a brain tumor has raised a lot of questions. But more than any other question, FOX4 viewers want to know who is paying for her health care.
Sara Beltran-Hernandez arrived Friday afternoon to New York to be with family while she receives treatment for a benign tumor. She fled El Salvador, was captured in Texas and spent 15 months in detention on the verge of being deported.
Her case gained national attention over medical access for immigrant detainees. ICE says all detainees receive 24-hour access to medical care and that Beltran-Hernandez was no different.
Her family claimed they could not get information about her treatment at the Prairieland ICE Detention Center or at the Fort Worth hospital where she was taken after she collapsed. But getting information about the cost of her care could be even more challenging.
Beltran-Hernandez was released from 15 months of detention on Thursday. She said her goodbyes and flew to New York to be with family and get medical care for her brain tumor. Her attorney says she's confident she can get state-funded insurance coverage there.
“In New York, everyone can get health care through New York-funded healthcare regardless of immigration status,” explained Fatma Marouf, her attorney.
So how much was Beltran-Hernandez’ medical care during detention at Prairieland? FOX4 requested billing records and we’re waiting for specific totals. Her attorney says even without extra medical care, the average daily cost of each detainee nationwide is $180.
“It ends up being $5 million a day for the U.S. for all immigrant detainees,” Marouf said.
But even the government has a hard time tracking medical costs. In 2015, ICE held an average of 32,000 undocumented immigrants each day. The medical cost managed directly by ICE was $206 million. But that doesn't account for off-site visits to clinics or hospitals or medical costs at detention centers, where ICE does not directly employ medical staff.
A federal review found ICE does not have adequate tools to track that information. In short, the $206 million total could be much higher.
Moving forward, Beltran-Hernandez' attorney hopes much of her care will be pro-bono now that she out of detention.
“If she was in detention right now, taxpayers would absolutely be paying for all her medical care because the federal government would be paying for it, and we'd be paying for it through our taxes,” Marouf said.
Her attorney says the brain tumor is not life threatening but will eventually need surgery to get it removed.