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by Jorge Luis Sierra, Translated by Peter Micek

Bush's Border Folly

(PNS) -- Olga Garcia, 33, is one of hundreds of Mexicans who cross the border into the United States to donate their blood in exchange for a few dollars.

Working eight hour days in the textile factories of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Garcia earns 620 pesos per week, the equivalent of $56.

But as a plasma donor she gets $70 weekly. For a year, Garcia went twice each week to the BioLife Plasma Services laboratories, located some two miles from the international Eagle Pass Bridge, and sold 1.76 liters of her blood. With that money, Garcia paid the mortgage on her house, as well as electricity and phone bills.

BioLife, together with Talecris Plasma Resources and Biomat USA, which is owned by Spanish company Grifols, have established themselves in the main Texas border cities. They capture the blood of low-income Mexicans with visas who can cross legally into the United States.

"At times, I did not have enough money to buy shoes for my son," Garcia said. "So I went to BioLife, and with that money I bought them."

Attracted by payments that at times surpassed their salaries, hundreds of border residents like Garcia use their tourist visas to go to blood collection centers in cities such as McAllen, Brownsville, Laredo, Eagle Pass and El Paso.

The centers arrange travel between Mexico and their labs. Biomat USA uses its own bus line to carry donors from Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, across the international bridge at Hidalgo, Texas, to McAllen.

The Biomat USA buses carry the message in Spanish, "Gane dinero hoy" (Earn money today!) to get the attention of visitors crossing the border.

To earn the maximum amount, donors go twice a week and sell between 690 and 880 milliliters of blood each time, depending on their weight. At 150 pounds, Garcia donates 880 milliliters during each visit.

BioLife Plasma Services currently pays $25 for the first donation of the week and $55 for the second. The firm gives an additional $20 for eight consecutive donations.

Federal authorities still have not determined if the donation of blood for money constitutes remunerated labor. If so, it would mean those donors entering as tourists were violating immigration laws and are subject to lose their visas and access to the country.

U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CPB) agents could deny them entry, but do not because the Department of Homeland Security has not decided whether blood donation for money classifies as work, said Felix Garza, spokesperson for CBP in the Rio Grande Valley.

According to diverse IRS regulations, this remuneration corresponds to the earnings of foreign, non-U.S. residents for personal services. Their income is subject to taxes of 30 percent if it exceeds $3,400 in 2007. Donors whose income is over this amount should obtain a tax identification number and present their annual declaration, according to the IRS. Likewise, the firms must retain 30 percent of the remunerations.

Chris Healey, representative of Grifols USA, said that after consulting with their lawyers, the firm found that the money donors receive is only a compensation and that there is no need to make the retentions.

Sitting on the border, these plasma collection companies draw donors from a radius of seven miles, which includes poor neighborhoods of Mexican frontier cities.

Articles six, seven and eight of the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association's (PPTA) code of ethics prohibit accredited firms from getting plasma from non-industrialized countries, where there are no authorities to impede practices that hurt or exploit the donors.

Located one or two miles from the border, the centers receive Mexican donors, whose health and physical well-being cannot be assured by U.S. officials.

"If you told me someone has put a blood bank in the middle of an African country, I could tell you it does not comply with the code of ethics," said Patrick Robert, president of the Marketing Research Bureau, a firm that investigates the global plasma market. "But the firms (in question) are in the United States, and this country does control the quality of blood donated."

Healey, of Grifols USA, said that the company maintains the strictest quality controls on blood and it gives the same treatment to all donors, whether citizens of the United States or Mexico. "We help donors to complement their incomes and patients to have medication that can save their lives," Healey said.

Kara Flynn, spokesperson of the PPTA, said that the firms treat donors equally, independent of their nationality or country of origin.

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Albion Monitor   August 8, 2007   (

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