WARNING: The following contains plot spoilers, if you haven’t watched “Chapter Ten,” do not read further.
In December, “Jane The Virgin” left fans in disbelief after Petra's mother threw Alba, Jane's grandmother and Xiomara's mother, down the stairs. In Monday's midseason premiere, the series reveals that Alba, who is residing in the U.S. without papers, is in a coma and her legal status in the U.S. could prove problematic once again.
As Alba lays comatose, a doctor informs Xiomara that her mother will be deported after waking up because she is undocumented and has no health insurance.
“She doesn’t have insurance and the hospital can’t afford to absorb the cost of her care,” the doctor tells Xiomara. “When the hurricane lifts, we will have to notify [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and they will deport her to Venezuela where she can continue to receive care if she needs it.”
Shocked by the doctor’s words, Xiomara yells back in disbelief, “That can’t be legal!” In case any viewers thought the Alba plot twist was an exaggeration (after all, the series is adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela), the screen freezes at that moment and the following reminder appears:
Indeed, incidents like this do occur in real life.
A report published in 2012 by the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest documented 800 cases of so-called “medical repatriation” carried out or attempted by hospitals over the previous six years.
A 2009 Florida state court case was one of the first to test the legality of the practice. Luis Alberto Jiménez was an undocumented immigrant who suffered brain damage and was left in a wheelchair. After administrators privately arranged to send him back to Guatemala, Jiménez's guardian sued Martin Memorial Hospital in Stuart, Florida. The hospital had treated him for years, at a cost of $1.5 million.
The jury, which had no Hispanic members, eventually found in favor of the hospital. But Miami attorney John de Leon, who has represented people in similar cases, told The Huffington Post that the case nevertheless made hospitals wary of medical repatriation because “they’re subject to liability in a way they weren’t in the past.”
De Leon said these repatriations have generally been carried out by hospitals rather than U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He added that ICE is now less likely to target undocumented immigrants in hospitals because of the Obama administration's recent directives to focus deportation proceedings on border incidents and on people with criminal records or prior immigration offenses.
“Obviously the U.S. government at any point could try to do that, but there would be so many procedural obstacles to moving forward on it that the U.S. government, as far as I know, is not taking those cases on anymore,” de Leon said.
Ahead of the series' midseason premiere, actress Gina Rodriguez, who plays Jane, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her thoughts on tackling the immigration issue within the show.
“I love the fact that we bring up immigration because it is an ever-present problem in our country,” Rodriguez told the site. “Why anyone isn't allowed to be anywhere in our country, obviously it has to do with tax reasons [too], but that's crazy ... that's disappointing.”
“Having an actress on our show, Diane Guerrero, who has spoken very openly about her situation with immigration and losing her family, I think it's important to have these social commentary episodes that you're not beating people over the head with it,” the actress continued. “Nobody likes to be beat over the head with anything. And I really like the fact that they integrated something so valuable and so important in our daily lives.”
"The beautiful opportunity we have on 'Jane the Virgin' is to discuss social commentary and issues in a manner that places no judgement," Rodriguez told HuffPost in an email. "It simply educates others on issues that may not arise in their area or community. The blessing on education is it creates tolerance. Why not use our art to inspire thought?"
"Immigration and immigration reform is something that we always knew we were going to touch on -- because it affects so many families in the Latino community, the community we're representing; it's something our country is grappling with, and it's something that we feel strongly about in our writer's room," said Jennie Snyder Urman, co-executive producer and showrunner for "Jane The Virgin. "We decided at the beginning of our season that Alba would be in this country illegally and discussed ways that this would be brought up and how it would affect our characters and their decisions. And then when we had Alba in the hospital, my writers discovered "Medical Repatriation" and it seemed like such a crazy and extreme, and yet possible thing ... The pause, and the hashtag advocating immigration action was in the script from the beginning (pitched and written in September/shot in October) and once Obama made his historic speech on Immigration, it became more timely."
"The response I've seen online has been largely positive, which I'm grateful about," Urman continued. "But the best response was when we had our table read, and the cast read that stage direction, and they all spontaneously cheered ... that was an awesome moment."
It seems fans were also quite happy with how the show went about addressing immigration reform:
I loved that #JaneTheVirgin took a stand on the last episode with immigration reform. Another reason why I adore this show!
— Georgina Blewett (@redbeanmilktea) January 21, 2015
Man that immigration reform bit in the newest episode of #JanetheVirgin was perfect!!!
— julianlytle (@julianlytle) January 21, 2015
— Kate Forristall (@KateCForristall) January 20, 2015
This story has been updated to include comment from Gina Rodriguez and Jennie Snyder Urman.