Health Advice



No papers, no care: Disabled migrants seek help through lawsuit, activism

Heidi de Marco, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Hernández, who lost his limbs in the train accident, was among the hundreds of thousands of Central American immigrants who annually ride north through Mexico atop the trains, known collectively as “La Bestia,” or “the Beast,” according to the Migration Policy Institute. Injuries are common on La Bestia. And more than 500 deaths have been reported in Mexico since 2014 among people seeking to enter the U.S.

Hernández, who finally made it to the U.S. in 2015, was granted humanitarian asylum after spending two months in a detention center in Texas but quickly realized there was little support for people with his disadvantages.

In 2019, with the help of a local church, he formed the Immigrants With Disabilities group, which tries to hold regular gatherings for its 40-plus members, though the pandemic has made meetups difficult. Hernández is the only person in the group with legal papers and health benefits, he said.

Angulo has found solace in connecting with others in the group. “We encourage each other,” she said. “We feel less alone.”

She volunteers as a guide for people recently diagnosed with blindness at the Braille Institute, teaching them how to cook, shower and groom themselves in pursuit of self-sufficiency. Angulo would like to have a job but said she lacks opportunities.


“I want to work. I’m capable,” she said. “But people don’t want to take a chance on me. They see me as a risk.”

She’s also wary of any organization that offers medical or financial assistance to undocumented immigrants. “They ask for all my information and, in the end, they say I don’t qualify,” she said. “Being blind and without papers makes me feel especially vulnerable.”


(KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation. This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.)

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