HOUSTON, Texas- Michelle Nicoll Gutierrez frequently entered the United States on a tourist visa without any issues. Last Saturday she arrived at the Houston airport with her 20-month-old son, who has a U.S. passport, and things went differently. Customs officers began to investigate the reasons why she used the federal assistance program Medicaid when she gave birth to her baby and insisted on knowing her financial situation, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Despite explaining that her delivery was risky due to a diagnosis of pre-diabetes, the authorities denied her entry, revoked her visa, returned her to Mexico and punished her with a five year ban on re-entering the United States.
The Trump administration is working on a plan to make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used public welfare programs, including Obamacare. The proposal is part of a larger plan to limit legal migration by White House senior adviser Stephen Miller through the creation of a merit-based system that would exclude working class immigrants who lack money and education.
What you need to know about current regulations
- The tourism visa is for tourism
Immigration lawyer Álex Galvez explained to Univision that the tourist visa does not allow persons to enter the country with any intention other than visiting friends or family, going shopping, or sightseeing. Going outside thosde limits can be considered a "fraudulent use" of your travel permit. "If a woman comes with the intention of giving birth here with that visa, that's fraud," he said.
Entering the United States while pregnant "can give the impression that you are coming for another reason that is not tourism" and could be a reason to deny entry, he added.
- If you have a medical emergency, pay for it with your money
The Office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told Univision that Gutierrez had used "government assistance during a previous stay in the country to pay for expenses associated with having a child in the United States." It added that because "it was discovered that there was an intention to migrate," she was returned to Mexico and was banned from entering the United States for the next five years.
Silvia Mintz, immigration lawyer, said it is advisable that tourists pay any medical emergency with their own money. "If you can not cover it, make sure you can enter into a payment plan with the hospital or with Medicaid and pay it in full (...) so you do not risk your visa."
- If you had an emergency delivery, save the documentation
It is common for health centers to offer help from Medicaid when there are emergency deliveries, said Mintz. "If you are here as a tourist, you should say no, because if you entered as a tourist (...) you must be able to cover the expenses," she said.
Both lawyers recommend keeping documents that show that the delivery had to take place in the United States due to a medical complication and take them with you during your trip to have them on hand in case you are questioned by an officer when entering the country.
- Buy private travel insurance
Galvez insists that the immigration authorities act in a discretionary manner and that even presenting the papers could result in a denial of entry and revoking of a tourist visa.
He also recommended that in order to avoid being seen as a potential immigrant, a visitor should travel with other types of documents that prove roots in their country of residence to demonstrate no intent to migrate, such as evidence of employment, property ownership or the registration of children in private schools.