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Immigrant deported by Fla. hospital sues

STUART, Fla., June 22 (UPI) -- The case of an illegal Guatamalan immigrant who was privately deported by a Florida hospital is at the center of a legal battle, observers say.

The immigrant, Luis Alberto Jimenez, was flown from Martin Memorial Medical Center in Stuart, Fla., to Guatamala in 2003 after it had spent more than $1 million rehabilitating him from injuries suffered in a car crash. The case is now the focus of a civil trial in which Jimenez's family members say the hospital sent him home illegally so it wouldn't have to pay to treat him, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post reported Monday.

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Legal experts said the trial, set to begin this week in Martin County, highlights several thorny issues involving healthcare and immigration reform debates.

"If there's ever a case that highlights the need for reform concerning both issues, this is it," Miami immigration attorney Greg Wald told the newspaper. He said hospitals have been privately deporting undocumented immigrants across the country, but noted Jimenez's case may be the first deportation that has been challenged in court.

Hospital spokeswoman Ronda Wilburn told the Post hospitals can't afford to pay the healthcare bills for illegal immigrants.

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