Sheriff wants feds to pay for illegal immigrant's mental health care

By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield - bio | email

NEWBERRY, SC (WIS) - Newberry County's sheriff is sending a bill to the federal government. Lee Foster says he is having a problem with an illegal immigrant who keeps breaking the law. He says she needs help but no one will give it to her, and the people who live in his county are paying for it.

The hospital is a place not everyone wants to be, but Foster said it's just the place Anselma Rico-Matinez needs to be. "The hospital at first didn't want to see her, because they said there's nothing they can do for her," said Foster. "Then she immediately went back into the parking lot and got into trouble again."

He says he's seen that trouble time and again. Foster says Rico-Martinez is an illegal immigrant, whom deputies have arrested for disorderly conduct, breaking into a car, shoplifting and assault and battery.

"When she gets in jail, she exhibits signs of mental illness," said Foster. "Beating herself against the wall."

So deputies keep taking her to the hospital, and they say the hospital releases her. They're supposed to do that by law, according to immigration attorney James Smith.
Mental health patients who are illegal citizens can't get help, unlike undocumented trauma patients. Deportation is unlikely. "Typically in a removal case, you'll see they take a long time and it's usually only with significant criminal activity do you see focus being given to actually complete a removal process," said Smith.

The sheriff says time is money. The last time Rico-Martinez was released, his deputies pooled together their own cash to buy her a hotel room since she wasn't allowed a hospital room. He says it's costing taxpayers about $50 each day she's in jail.
Foster is actually compiling a tab, and the small-town sheriff says he's sending it to the federal government. "I know they won't pay, and I know they'll laugh at me," he said. "But I'm gonna do it, and see where it takes me."

The sheriff admits he is not a mental health expert. But the immigration attorney says this case brings up two issues -- that illegal immigrants can't get mental health care, and that local governments are limited in how they can help.

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