Jesus Navarro Deserves a Kidney

Jesus Navarro is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He has been in the United States for 16 years. He worked for Pacific Steel in Berkeley for 14 years, had private health insurance through the company and paid his taxes every year. In December Jesus lost his job at Pacific Steel when the company was subject to an I-9 immigration audit by the Department of Homeland Security.

Last night, I attended a meeting with supporters of Jesus Navarro. The 35-year-old father has been denied a kidney transplant. Supporters believe the denial is based solely on his immigration status. UC San Francisco, where his transplant was scheduled to take place, has not issued a clear reasoning for his denial. UCSF continues to merely claim that they cannot be guaranteed that Jesus would be able to afford the immunosuppressant therapy he would require for the rest of his life following the surgery.

There are 80,000 people in the US waiting for a kidney. Jesus waited on the kidney transplant list for six years before he was eligible for a kidney. However, he would not be taking a kidney away from anyone on the list. When told at his final consultation before the transplant surgery that he was not going to be receiving the transplant due presumably to his undocumented immigration status, his wife offered to donate one of her own kidneys to him. UCSF still refused to preform the operation.

This is not an issue of health insurance. Jesus has private insurance that would cover the procedure and he would be eligible for 36 months of Cobra insurance following the operation. It is true that Jesus may have trouble affording immunosuppressant drugs after the 36 months if he can’t find another job, but the same can be said of anyone in this economy. Employment is not guaranteed regardless of your immigration status.

While the argument has been made that granting Jesus the transplant would be a “burden” to American taxpayers, it is important that the costs involved be looked at. Kidney failure patients can survive for up to 20 years on dialysis. Kidney dialysis costs $150,000 per year, and is completely covered by Medicare which American Citizens and Permanent Residents who experience kidney failure are eligible for. Immunosuppressant therapy following a kidney transplant costs about $20,000 the first year and $10,000 – $15,000 in subsequent years. Kidney transplant patients are only eligible for three years of Medicare coverage after their operation.

Why is Jesus being treated differently than any other kidney transplant patient? Not everyone is asked about their immigration status before an operation. Donald Kagan, a supporter of Jesus and a kidney transplant recipient himself, says he was never asked what his immigration status was before receiving his life-saving operation. His transplant operation was performed just a little over one year ago.

Jesus is facing many challenges right now. He now not only has to fight for his life and his right to the kidney transplant, but he may also have to fight for his right to remain in this country. As a law-abiding person with no criminal convictions, Jesus is not a high-risk target for DHS or ICE but his case is making him a very high-profile illegal immigrant. There are potential avenues that Jesus could pursue for legally remaining in the United States and changing his residence status, but nothing is assured.

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