Suffer the children: St. Joseph's and the sad death of Joe Arvizu.

North High student Joe Arvizu, who passed this Monday morning...

Joe Arvizu's funeral took place yesterday in a small town near the Mexican city of Agua Prieta, across the border from Douglas, Arizona. The precise cause of his death is unclear, though the teenager (some say he was 17, others 18) had recently been diagnosed with leukemia by St. Joseph's hospital here in Phoenix. This story comes to me from those who knew the senior at North High School. They say that in October, Arvizu sustained some sort of a head injury. Sometime around October 20, he was taken to St. Joe's for emergency treatment.

Spokespersons for St. Joe's said they could not discuss the specifics of Arvizu's case due to confidentiality laws. But according to North High teachers and staff, Arvizu underwent brain surgery while at St. Joe's. A week later, after the diagnosis for leukemia, the not-for-profit hospital, which was founded 112 years ago by the Sisters of Mercy, apparently transferred Joe to a hospital in Mexico. One source tells me he was sent first to Agua Prieta, then to Hermosillo, capitol of Sonora, where he received chemotherapy. (Another source says he was sent to Hermosillo directly.) Monday morning, around 2 a.m., Arvizu passed. He now sleeps in the soil of Mexico.

As family, friends and faculty mourn the popular young man, who had passed all of his AIMS tests and was set to graduate high school in May, there are questions about why Arvizu was transferred to Mexico while he was still sick. You see, though he had been in America at least during his high school years, Arvizu was undocumented and uninsured.

Medicaid covers emergency care for those here illegally. Beyond that there is only charity or "uncompensated care" as they refer to it in the medical profession. Sister Margaret McBride, Vice President of Mission Services for the hospital told me Arvizu's case was considered by St. Joe's charity committee, but for various reasons, it was decided to send Arvizu to Mexico, perhaps because illegal immigrants are not eligible to receive transplants, including bone-marrow transplants, in the U.S., according to McBride.

"About four years ago, Arizona stopped funding individuals who weren’t documented in the community for health care needs," McBride explained. "The federal government has federal emergency funding. That goes into effect if there’s an emergency situation. Usually the coverage lasts about two days. So the federal government will help us two days with the care."

McBride stated that about 1 to 5 undocumented patients from St. Joe's are transferred every week to Mexico. She insisted the hospital had no choice but to send Arvizu to a facility in Sonora.

"We don’t deport anyone," she told me. "We don’t call INS. We don’t want to be a part of that. Our goal is to take care of the patients that come to our door...We take care of them for the acute phase of the illness or the injury, and at some point it becomes a long term care issue."

And yet, some are questioning whether or not St. Joseph's did enough in the case of Joe Arvizu. They ask if he would still be alive if he'd never been sent south, a move they say both he and his mother were not happy with.

"It’s weird because St. Joseph’s is always asking for donations," said one North High staff member. "They’re always sending letters out. A lot of people donate to them. So I don’t understand why they didn't keep him here."

On St. Joseph's Web site, under the heading of, "Our Mission, Vision & Values," it states that, "Catholic Healthcare West and our Sponsoring Congregations are committed to furthering the healing ministry of Jesus." Further on, the site mentions that one of the hospital's main goals is, "Serving and advocating for our sisters and brothers who are poor and disenfranchised."

Certainly, Arvizu was both poor and disenfranchised. A school staffer visited him in the Hermosillo hospital, bringing with her $600 raised by Arvizu's fellow students through a car wash and direct contributions. But it was not enough to cover the cost of even one of his chemo treatments in Mexico, at $1,000 each. Now, Arvizu's fellow students will be raising money to help his family pay for the funeral.

North High teacher Jane McNamara tells me Arvizu got good grades, was active in choir and in the Junior ROTC. He would've been an ideal candidate for citizenship, if this country had a DREAM Act. But it doesn't. Most nativists, I'm sure, would happily dance on his grave. That's why I'm hesitant to even give out information regarding future fundraisers, knowing the potential for violence by some in the anti-immigrant camp. For them, Arvizu, and all teenagers like him, are criminals, deserving of immediate deportation, regardless of their medical status.

Take a gander at the photo above. Look like a criminal to you?

Many of the people on the nativist side consider themselves to be Christians. They even invoke the Bible to justify their hatred, anger and prejudice, just as some Christians once justified slavery and later Jim Crow with that same religious text.

I don't know which version they're thumbing through, but in mine, the man from Galilee tells his disciples, "Suffer the little children to come unto me; forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God."

He didn't say, "Suffer the little American children..." or "Suffer the little white kids..." Unless your Bible's the "New and Revised Russell Pearce Edition." When I ran into state Rep. Pearce this past weekend at the Arpaio Roast in Sun City West, I asked him about the Dream Act, and what about the kids of illegals who've obeyed the law, gotten good grades, etc., etc. He was having none of it. "Illegal is illegal," he told me.

Which made me recall that other line from Christ regarding children, "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble."

Don't look at me, I'm an atheist. It's you folks who are supposed to believe in this stuff. Maybe one day, you'll all start acting like you do.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.