A California public health official loses his job for speaking out against Sacramento County’s unlawful funneling of tax dollars meant for impoverished American citizens to pay for non-emergency care for illegal immigrants
By Mark Cromer
[As the violent disintegration of California continues over immigration, it’s worth considering how long the official subterfuge against the poorest of American citizens has gone on in this state. A decade has passed since I first wrote this column exposing how Dr. Gene Rogers, a M*A*S*H surgeon during the Vietnam war who returned from the war to become the Medical Director of Sacramento County’s Indigent Services program, only to be summarily targeted, harassed and eventually fired for blowing the proverbial ‘whistle’ on the corrupt bureaucratic system that had taken root in the Golden State’s capital county, a malfeasance designed to illegally channel the already meager tax funds allotted to help the poorest of America’s citizens of every racial and ethnic stripe—many of them homeless—in order to pay for non-emergency medical services for illegal immigrants, including fertility treatments. A decorated veteran who harbored no ill will whatsoever for the undocumented immigrants already here, Dr. Rogers rather raised his voice against the clandestine system that took money from desperately poor Americans and for his trouble found himself browbeaten, blacklisted and ultimately banished by the very government he served in Vietnam to defend. I also produced a video interview with Dr. Rogers at the time for Californians for Population Stabilization, a Santa Barbara-based public policy think tank where I was a Senior Writing Fellow, in which he describes his betrayal at the hands of California’s bureaucrats—and the nation’s. That video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IDbdf5DxIE ]
Dr. Gene Rogers had a pretty good idea of what was coming when he saw his supervisor and a county security officer arrive at his office door. His supervisor was holding paperwork; the security guard was holding an empty box.
Rogers knew what they had come to do, and why they were doing it.
As the Medical Director for Sacramento County’s Indigent Services program for the better part of the past decade, Rogers has waged a long fight against the central California county’s practice of providing non-emergency medical care to illegal immigrants—a policy he says violates federal law and results in the poorest American citizens being denied the care they deserve.
Last week, that fight cost Rogers his job.
In a two-sentence memo to Rogers, the county’s Health and Human Services Director Lynn Frank informed him that he was fired, but thanked him for his services. No reason for his termination was offered, but then he didn’t really expect one.
“Sacramento County knowingly violated state and federal laws, misappropriated taxpayer revenues and diverted funds designated for indigent citizens to pay for services delivered to illegal aliens,” Rogers said. “And they did so even as they cut the budget.”
Rogers is the latest casualty on a frontline in the struggle over illegal immigration that’s often overshadowed by mass street demonstrations, chaotic protests and the widespread outrage sparked by the tragic deaths of Americans at the hands of illegal immigrants that should have been deported. It is a battle that has simmered throughout the government agencies and offices, from the court house to medical clinics to public schools and the frontline social program administrators that confront the reality of illegal immigration everyday.
Many government employees remain silent in the face of what’s happening; fearful for their jobs and perhaps doubtful they’d make a difference. But Rogers, a Vietnam veteran, felt compelled to become a conscientious objector to the status quo.
The local cost of the medical treatment provided to illegal immigrants is small when contrasted to the billions of dollars the state and federal governments spend every year on the “undocumented,” but the numbers have grown dramatically. According to county health officials, the hundreds of illegal immigrants that were being treated through the indigent program in the mid-1990s have now grown to thousands of people, with the annual cost to taxpayers swelling into the millions of dollars.
Ironically, when Rogers, 67, took the position of medical director for the indigent services program back in 1999, he arrived in the Central Valley with hardly a clue (let alone an opinion) about illegal immigration and its impact on social services. He had one goal: provide the best care possible for those who need it most.
As the years went by, however, that egalitarian perspective began to be tinged with cynicism as he watched poor citizens get squeezed out of the system even as illegal immigrants gleefully manipulated it, all while bureaucrats facilitated the rampant violations of the very laws they were entrusted to enforce.
“I’ve seen cases and case histories of patients who essentially have come up from Mexico for the express purpose of being treated here; and then leaving to return home,” Rogers said. “I’ve watched illegal immigrants brazenly demand free, non-emergency health care that was meant for our poorest citizens. I’ve heard them and their families complain. They feel entitled to it.”
Rogers filed a lawsuit against the county in 2003 after county officials “stonewalled” him when he questioned why they were cutting budgets while still providing non-emergency medical treatment to people who have no legal right to be in the country. Rogers recounts staff meetings where the agendas had legal residency requirements listed under the euphemism ‘parking lot items.’
“Basically that was their way of saying leave it outside, you know, that it wasn’t even to be broached,” Rogers said. Considering he served in Vietnam as a forward-deployed doctor treating horrifically wounded soldiers, Rogers wasn’t exactly intimidated by Politically Correct etiquette.
The lawsuit he filed was dismissed on a technicality and is currently under appeal in Federal Court, but its impact was felt in the state capital, causing a nervous Latino Legislative Caucus in California to push through a bill by State Sen. Deborah Ortiz last year that explicitly allows counties to “opt” to provide non-emergency medical care to illegal immigrants.
Feeling that he had exposed a bureaucratic conspiracy that silently circumvented the law for more than a decade and continues to subvert the will of the people, Rogers continued his quest to ensure that citizens and legal residents have priority at the front of the line when it comes to medical services for the poor.
The county responded, Rogers said, by seeking to alienate him from his prior relationships with county medical staff and by methodically preparing to fire him—with a little humiliation thrown in along the way.
On one occasion, Rogers said, he was forced to sit through a staff meeting in which his supervisors asked case management nurses, one-by-one, if they had any issues or problems with him. None said they did, but it was a humiliating experience. Rogers said his job was then reclassified after eight years last fall and new duties were assigned to him. Then new benchmarks were assigned that he was expected to meet in short order. Then in May, he was given a letter of reprimand for referring to the program’s patients as “lawful residents” as opposed to “eligible patients.”
“I am concerned that you continue to focus on patients immigration status,” Program Manager Nancy Gilberti said in the letter. “Which is outside your and [the] program’s purview.”
And that’s the problem: it’s always “outside the purview.”
Gilberti’s remarks are indeed a fine reflection of a prevailing culture that has now emerged in many arms of government; a culture that will not tolerate anyone who dares to draw a distinction between American citizens and illegal immigrants. It is a culture that, in California at any rate, now pervades police departments, public schools and universities, social services and healthcare. It is difficult to imagine Rogers being ruthlessly drummed out of his job if he had been advocating for illegal immigrants to receive free medical care.
But when someone like Rogers speaks up to question the impact on citizens of such allocation of funds for health services like those in Sacramento—the response is clear: sit down and shut up, or else.
The federal government sought to make examples out of Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean with a prosecutorial sledge hammer that sent them to prison for more than a decade each after they shot and wounded an illegal immigrant drug smuggler who they caught bringing more than a million dollars of dope across the border.
In Rogers’ case, the message is less drastic but equally clear. They seek to eliminate his voice and intimidate any other public employee that might also question this policy of drawing no distinction between citizens, legal residents and those who are in the United States illegally.
But considering that a young Dr. Rogers started his medical career trying to save the lives of American soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam, the county’s apparatchiks are seriously mistaken and have picked the wrong target.
For Gene Rogers himself, his crusade is deeply rooted in those grim battlefields he found himself on more than 30 years ago. The young men he watched fight and die; men who sacrificed all for the very distinction that citizenship brings to Americans.
It’s a distinction that Sacramento County and so many others may choose to ignore, but for Dr. Rogers, that loyalty is a sacred trust he is determined to keep.