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INS crossing fee straps patients

June 11, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The Valley Orthopaedic Clinic here, the non-profit organization that has helped 125,000 disfigured or sick children get life-changing operations, needs some help itself.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is charging $6 to process the paperwork of border-crossers who head for the clinic. For years the clinic has picked up any such fees because the services it offers are free of charge.

A good number of the people the clinic helps can't afford food or medicine much less processing fees, according to clinic administrator Wayne Van De Graaff, a former INS inspector and county supervisor.


Van De Graaff said the cost to the clinic for paying the processing fees for patients and their families is getting close to $1,000 a month. With that expense and the rising costs of insurance for the clinic's three buses, the clinic is having a hard time running in the black.

There was even talk that the clinic might close.

Bertha Myers, Las Vecinas club president and a clinic board member, said that rumor is false. At a meeting Friday, the board decided to do whatever it takes to keep the clinic open. Las Vecinas is the clinic's auxiliary and helps it raise funds.

"We can't stop it. People have ongoing operations," Myers said of the clinic.

A good number of the cases the clinic sees are severe. A child might come in with webbed toes, no legs, legs pinned behind the back or facial disfigurations.

After an initial operation, that child often will need to come back and get more work done or travel to Los Angeles to visit specialists.

Myers doesn't see why the child and its guardian need to pay the $6 processing fee every time they cross. But they do, according to the INS.

Van De Graaff said he has been told it doesn't matter if the kids are going to the clinic or Disneyland, they have to pay the $6.

In response to that policy, the clinic has sent letters to congressional representatives, hoping to get a special exemption for those who are coming to the clinic. Until the policy is changed, the clinic board will try to cover the cost.

Myers said the board discussed coming up with a fund-raising slogan to let people know the clinic needs help covering those processing fees.

"Six dollars to save a child, something like that," she said.

Van De Graaff said the clinic needs help for one of the first times in its 41-year history because some of its most generous benefactors have little left to give. He said one doctor who has been especially generous has sold a home, two airplanes and a car to donate to the clinic.

To donate to the clinic or receive more information about what it does, stop by or write to Valley Orthopedic Clinic P.O. Box 1645 Calexico CA 92231. The clinic's tax-exempt number is available on the brochure.

The clinic was founded in 1962 by Calexico community members such as Van De Graaff and Los Angeles-area doctors including Dr. Charles Leroy Lowman.

During its few years of operation the clinic was housed in the INS headquarters. It was moved to the second floor of the downtown JCPenney department store when it became too big for the INS building.

In the 1970s the clinic moved to its current location at First Street and Heber Avenue.

The clinic helps children from all over Mexico and any local kids who need assistance.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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