By Erik Derr ( | First Posted: Apr 23, 2013 06:20 PM EDT

(Photo : Creative Commons)

Hundreds of undocumented immigrants have been deported from United States hospitals while they were unconscious, after health care providers decided it would cost too much to let them stay.

Two cases in point: Jacinto Cruz and Jose Rodriguez Saldana, who were recovering in Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines after both were seriously hurt in a car accident.

Before either of the men awoke, hospital staffers had them flown back to their native Mexico, because it wasn't certain the insurance coverage Cruz and Saldana had received from the pork manufacturing company where they worked covered the type of long-term care they would need.

The hospital indicated the families of the two men gave permission for the transfers, but the families themselves deny it.

Neither Cruz nor Saldana was in the U.S. legally.

When they awoke, the men were 1,800 miles and a border crossing away from the first hospital in Des Moines.

There are hundreds of cases like those of Cruz and Saldana, where undocumented hospital patients have been deported while unconscious, law professor Lori Nessel, director of the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School, was reported saying in a report by the Associated Press.

The federal government claims it's not involved in the hospital deportations, that it has been the decisions of the health care providers exclusively to send patients back to their home countries without their know --- all in the name of curbing medical expenses.

Called "medical repatriation," the patients are placed on chartered international flights paid for by the hospitals.

At least 600 immigrants, if not more, were deported over a five year period, Nessel said.

"The problem is, it's all taking place in this unregulated sort of a black hole," without any way of monitoring the practice, she said.

There's growing concern hospitals will expand the deportations after federal health care reforms kick in.

"It really is a Catch-22 for us," said Dr. Mark Purtle, vice president of Medical Affairs for Iowa Health System. "This is the area that the federal government, the state, everybody says we're not paying for the undocumented."

All hospitals are required to care for patients no matter if they are citizens or not, or if they have the ability to pay or not.

Those care requirements, however, change once a patient is stabilized.

Immigrant advocates say the practice violates U.S. and international law, unfairly targeting a defenseless population.

"They don't have advocates, and they don't have people who will speak on their behalf," asserted Miami attorney John De Leon.

Many hospitals say they in fact try contact immigration authorities when they have patients who don't have proper documentation, but most of those calls are ignored, leaving the car providers no other alternative other than resolving the problems themselves.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs back in 2009 told doctors not to let "hospital administrators to use their significant power and the lack of regulations to send patients to other countries."

But, when it's one against an entire hospital administration, and there aren't any legal protections in place, what's a doctor to do?

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