Sense of Decency

Listening to others, seeing things through their eyes.

Plasma donors wait outside a donation center in Brownsville, Texas, May 2021. Photo © Jim McKeever.

By JIM McKEEVER

Mexicans can be heroes again. 

A U.S. District Court judge last week overturned a 2021 U.S. Customs and Border Protection policy that had stopped Mexicans from crossing the border to donate plasma.

In May 2021, I noticed long lines outside the three plasma donation centers within a few hundred yards of the US-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, where I was volunteering. 

Every day, dozens of Mexican men and women lined up on the sidewalks waiting to make money selling their plasma (which is illegal in Mexico). 

The sign on one building read, “Héroes Entran Aquí.” (“Heroes Enter Here.”)

The scene every day was a stark reminder of the steps people are willing to take when facing poverty. Donating plasma twice a week can bring in hundreds of dollars a month, which goes a lot further in Mexico than in the U.S.

But when I returned to Brownsville in May 2022, I saw no more lines outside the centers.  

Last June the U.S. government, in typical arbitrary fashion, put a stop to the decades-long practice, causing more economic hardship for donors from Mexico. ProPublica has been following the impact of the ban  — a global plasma shortage and loss of American jobs in the “$21 billion global market” for plasma, which is essential for many treatments for patients with serious medical conditions and immune deficiencies.

Plasma centers near the border reported losing up to 94 percent of their collection volumes. 

According to the lawsuit, five percent — millions of liters — of plasma collected in the U.S. has come from Mexican donors. 

The lens through which this particular “border crisis” is viewed is mostly economic, with an obvious nod to global public health — unless you’re Mexican. 

In granting a preliminary injunction to overturn the policy, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said the need for plasma outweighed potential health risks for frequent donors, which include weight loss and reduced levels of antibodies. 

In the lawsuit that resulted in the ban being lifted, pharmaceutical companies cynically described Mexicans’ plasma as a substance that “originates in Mexico” and should be treated as just another imported product. 

At least the judge rejected that argument. “A person is more than just a shopping cart of biological products to be bought and sold at a later date,” she wrote.

Forgotten — or ignored — in all of this is the stark reality of the poverty in Mexico that leads so many of its citizens to make money this way. 

I’ve reached out to the pharmaceutical companies that filed the lawsuit (they are based in Spain and Australia) to ask if they have any type of program in Mexico to alleviate poverty or at least provide followup health care for frequent donors after they return to Mexico. 

Stay tuned.

Jim McKeever is a co-founder of Sense of Decency.

4 thoughts on “Heroes Enter Here

  1. Jim McKeever says:

    Reblogged this on Jim McKeever and commented:

    “A person is more than just a shopping cart of biological products to be bought and sold at a later date,” the judge wrote.

    Like

  2. A very sad situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just when I think this world is gaining some tolerance, humanity and acceptance, I learn something new that cracks my rose-tinted glasses.

    This is sad.

    Like

    1. Jim McKeever says:

      As important as plasma is to those who need it, it is sad that frequent donors can put their health at risk so they can feed their families. This is true everywhere, but Mexico is particularly vulnerable — and these companies advertise heavily across the border.

      Like

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