Fear keeping some undocumented immigrants away from doctor's offices

LANCASTER, Calif. (KABC) -- Some doctors at clinics that treat undocumented immigrants say they have seen fewer patients come in recently amid a national crackdown on immigration.

They say many are foregoing necessary treatment out of fear of bringing their undocumented status to the attention of authorities.

At the Antelope Valley Community Clinic in Lancaster, for example, no one is turned away regardless of insurance or ability to pay. But lately doctors there are seeing more patients skip their appointments.

"In the last few months we noticed a drop-off considerably in the number of people that are coming in for treatment," said Dr. Richard Rojas, a dentist.

"Maria," an undocumented immigrant, has two young children who are citizens and need regular checkups and immunizations. But going to the doctor feels risky to her now.

"I'm afraid with all the news and everything that they tell us that we're going to get stopped at any time and deported," she said.

For some, waiting to see a doctor can mean life or death. Rojas says regardless of immigration status, patients should not ignore their medical needs.

In response, the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County has been offering training to providers like Rojas so he'll know how to talk to patients about their health rights.

"We don't divulge their information to anybody," Rojas said. "Not only we just don't do it because it's not right but because it's a HIPAA violation and they should understand and feel safe here," Rojas said.

Maria has a home, a car and a job. She also has a binder where she keeps a notarized plan for where her children will go if she gets picked up by immigration officers. Maria hopes for a day when she and her family can feel safe again and continue to take care of their basic needs.

"Living in fear is not something that I wish on anybody," she said.
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