Blood Donors

The U.S. Is Trying To Keep Out Mexicans Who Want To Sell Their Blood Plasma

Paid plasma donation is a financial lifeline for Mexican donors and a medical lifeline for plasma-dependent patients.

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Among other supply chain issues sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world now faces a shortage of blood plasma, which is used in life-saving therapies for people who have certain chronic illnesses. A new policy implemented by the Biden administration serves to make that shortage worse.

On June 15, Customs and Border Protection announced that Mexicans would no longer be permitted to enter the U.S. on temporary visitor visas to sell their plasma. The new policy now designates Mexican donors "labor for hire," which makes it illegal for them to sell plasma while holding a B1/B2 visitor visa, as the majority of those donors have previously done.

The Immune Deficiency Foundation estimates that the restrictions on Mexican donors could reduce the U.S. plasma supply by 5–10 percent. Though that may not sound drastic, Georgetown University ethics professor and paid plasma expert Peter Jaworski calls it an "enormous" issue. Jaworski tells Reason that the pandemic had already reduced U.S.-based plasma collection by 20–25 percent. "We are in a medicinal crunch," he says. "We don't have enough of these medicines. Already there's a shortage in Spain…and in other parts of the European Union as well. Unless we figure out a way to increase plasma collection, we're not going to overcome those shortages."

Demand for plasma is rising, too—growing annually between 6–8 percent.* Plasma-for-pay is key to solving this issue, but few nations are willing to acknowledge that reality.

Just five countries allow donors to receive payment for blood plasma—the United States, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. That compensation model has led to these five nations having plasma collection surpluses, while countries that have to import plasma constantly grapple with shortages. Countries that allow paid plasma comprise 89 percent of the world's plasma supply. The U.S. provides over 70 percent, making Biden's move a potential catastrophe for the global importers of American plasma. In Spain, for example, La Razon reported that therapy providers have already had to space out plasma treatments due to shortages.

There are no alternatives to plasma-based medicines for the patients who use them. According to Jaworski, "they either get immunoglobulin or they suffer and sometimes die." Roughly 300,000 Europeans and 125,000 Americans rely on plasma therapies to treat chronic illnesses—like Von Willebrand disease and hemophilia—and many more are treated with plasma after traumatic accidents or in preparation for surgeries. Researchers have looked to plasma in their efforts to treat COVID-19 and Alzheimer's disease, making a reliable global supply all the more important.

Still, critics of paid blood plasma say the practice is exploitative. (A June ProPublica article celebrated Biden's June policy change with the headline, "The U.S. Is Closing a Loophole That Lured Mexicans Over the Border to Donate Blood Plasma for Cash.") They claim that plasma centers put Mexican donors at medical risk with the promise of making a quick buck. Beyond the blatant disregard for donor agency, that argument neglects how financially important paid plasma donation can be for people south of the border.

The U.S. caps donations at 104 per year, and with donors paid up to $40 for every donation, a Mexican donor could feasibly make over $4,000 annually from selling plasma. "The average salary in at least some of these border cities in Mexico is estimated to be about $9 a day," explains Jaworski. "Meanwhile, Mexicans could cross the border and get basically $80 a week donating plasma twice a week." Knowing that, Mexican donors have decided that selling plasma is a valuable opportunity to make some cash. 

"Take anything that you think is exploitative. You need to look at what the second-best option for that group of people is," says Jaworski. "In banning the ability of Mexicans to cross the border to sell their plasma, we don't thereby put money in their pockets. So whatever it is that made them exploitable in the first place still exists."

"A lot of us were already unemployed and trying to make ends meet," Geraldo Rivera, a regular plasma donor from Mexico, told Texas Public Radio shortly after the policy change. "Now they say we can't donate and we don't know how we're going to survive."

"Whether I have a steady job or not, I'm going to go back to donating," Saul Vazquez, another frequent donor, told the El Paso Times.

Charges of high medical risk may well be overblown, too. The ProPublica article cautions that "frequent donors were underweight and showed low levels of antibodies," but Jaworski says this is "basically speculation." Paid plasma centers test potential donors' protein and hemoglobin levels to ensure collection will go smoothly.

Far from being an exploitative practice, paid blood plasma donation is a lifeline for many Mexicans, and absolutely essential for patients with autoimmune disorders and other immunodeficiencies who rely on these therapies. And yet, the Biden administration has decided to jeopardize the world's plasma supply, patient well-being, and the financial livelihoods of Mexican donors all at once.

*Correction: A previous version of this article referred to plasma demand tripling during the pandemic. That tripling is mostly due to rising demand for unpaid transfusable plasma, not the paid plasma used in therapies covered by this piece.

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  1. Honeymoon is over.

    1. For Mexican plasma donors, it was all in vein.

      1. You da man (or whatever). Good one.

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    2. My last pay test was $9500 operating 12 hours per week on line. my sisters buddy has been averaging 15k for months now and she works approximately 20 hours every week. i can not accept as true with how easy it become as soon as i tried it out. This is what do,…………..Read More

  2. Biden is hurting Mexicans?

    Trump supporters rejoice!

    Yay Biden! You did something right!

  3. Well of course the democrats want to keep out anyone independent enough to try to make money on their own.
    Next thing you know they might jeopardize elections by voting for republican’s!

    1. That’s a joke, right? After all it is known that all immigrants vote for Democrats. All brown and black people too. At least that’s what Hannity says.

      1. Sorry, dipshit, can you spell C-U-B-A? Well, now you can.

  4. Jimmy Carter on line 2 says thanks, Joe.

  5. Weird thing to restrict those who already have visas.

    1. Because the restrictions on full citizens are so few and far between?

  6. Fresh Frozen Plasma can be stored for over a year at -20C and over 7 yrs. at -65C. Is there a reason, other than subersive nationalism and/or leftist politics, why libertarians would prefer Mexicans to donate on this side of the border rather than donate on their side and have the products shipped over?

    1. But, would you want one of your loved-ones to receive plasma from someone cleared by a Mexican clinic?

      1. None of my relatives have Von Willebrand or hemophilia. Are you saying Mexican clinics can’t possibly meet American criteria? I don’t agree with the ‘exploitative’ argument against donating plasma but calling for people to be able cross the border to get American wages for plasma would seem to be evidence that supports it.

        1. We spend more on health care per person in the US than the median Mexican household makes in a year. I am not begrudging medical personnel who work in Mexico, but their technology is lacking compared to ours. Even more than that, I tend to look askance at any nation where most things are controlled by what seems to be a partnership between big business, the government, and cartels. I think the Mexican government would be more than willing to exploit their own citizens, for instance, by paying them $5 but charging the US clinics $40.

          1. I think the Mexican government would be more than willing to exploit their own citizens, for instance, by paying them $5 but charging the US clinics $40.

            So are libertarians opposed to a government exploiting people in a profit-for-plasma scheme or not? Does it matter if the product is plasma or iPhones?

        2. >>Mexican clinics can’t possibly meet American criteria?

          try six minutes of the next “Botched”

          1. Plasma donation/collection is not an invasive procedure.

            There is no federal regulation and only 4 states that actually require any sort of certification to be a phlebotomist. Otherwise, it’s up to the employer to train phlebotomists, including no training at all. I’ve drawn/separated/collected my own plasma by myself.

            1. dude. sarcasm.

              1. racist!

            2. Wow you are clearly super fun at parties!

      2. Mexican plasma from Mexico is not the juan you want.

        1. Right, the libertarian reasoning is to observe Mexican law and order and raise the price of supply in order to meet demand.

    2. Just five countries allow donors to receive payment for blood plasma—the United States, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

      Note – Mexico is not one of those.

      1. “Note – Mexico is not one of those.”
        That’s perhaps only because they don’t deem it “profitable” for the government.

      2. Note – Mexico is not one of those.

        So, in the face of billions in drugs and illegal immigration libertarians cry “Legalize it!”, but when it comes to drawing blood on the “evil magic dirt” side of an imaginary line, libertarians suddenly get all law and order?

        1. I’m pretty sure most libertarians would advocate for Mexico to allowed paid plasma donations, but alas Mexico still does not. While many libertarians may also advocate for the civil disobedience of clinic paying donors anyway, I suspect the clinics are less inclined to break the law

      3. It’s illegal for a Mexican who lives 20 miles from the border to donate blood to a Mexican hospital 2 miles from the border so in the event that a large number of Mexicans cross the border to donate blood, the Mexican hospital could suffer a blood shortage. NAFTA, or whatever Trump renamed it to, is a free trade agreement in name only.

        1. Plasma is not blood, it is a component of blood and is handled differently by law and biology.

    3. You’d have to find a libertarian to answer. All you have on here are embarrassed Republicans.

      I mean- they screeched for years about keeping Mexicans out and now that Biden is doing it it’s somehow terrible right?

      1. You’d have to find a libertarian to answer. All you have on here are embarrassed Republicans.

        Fair enough, though I have a hard time calling the people for eroding the laws of our republic so that Mexico can continue to maintain it’s terrible laws libertarians or Republicans.

    4. Imported plasma?
      *tilts nose upward*
      I think not!

      1. I prefer my plasma to be raw plasma. Locally sourced of course.

      2. It comes from Baltimore, California, and Philadelphia now. How much filthier could it get?

    5. You mean besides all those Dem votes?

  7. The U.S. Is Trying To Keep Out Mexicans Who Want To Sell Their Blood Plasma

    I’m pretty sure if this had happened a year ago, it would have been the Trump Administration. And what do you know? Right there in the second sentence of the article, there it is, the Biden Administration! I guess I don’t have to strain my brain wondering who writes these headlines.

  8. Per-capita ANNUAL income in Mexico is around $3000. Way to go, Biden! Let’s make more Mexicans even poorer and make even MORE of them want to immigrate. Bug or feature? Personally, I suspect that Biden just doesn’t like Mexicans.

    1. Where’s that number from? Is that Median income?

      1. Median household income is right about $10,000. Average household size is just under 4.

        1. Okay, so yes, median. Got it. I was wondering because the per-capita I’ve seen for it sits around 10k, and 20k or so if you’re using PPP. That is different from the median and I’m willing to believe the median is fairly shifted from the mean in Mexico.

          1. +

    2. The minimum wage in Mexico is $5 USD a day. That’s what Henry Ford paid his workers back in 1920. It still isn’t low enough for multinational corporations though.

      1. About 15 years ago, a friend of a friend of mine opened a custom knife shop in Mexico just over the border from Texas. These were pocket knives inlaid with semi-precious stones, corals, and similar materials. This required quite a high level of craftsmanship. He paid his workers, if IIRC, $10/day. He got raided on a regular basis since the police apparently thought he MUST be manufacturing drugs to turn that kind of profit. He eventually moved his operations back to the US side.

        1. These were pocket knives inlaid with semi-precious stones, corals, and similar materials. This required quite a high level of craftsmanship.

          This sounds between oxymoronic and a lie. Again, weird how Mexicans can achieve high quality craftsmanship when it comes to handmade knives but, apparently, aren’t capable of drawing blood and collecting plasma without taking a shit in it.

          1. “This sounds between oxymoronic and a lie. Again, weird how Mexicans can achieve high quality craftsmanship when it comes to handmade knives but, apparently, aren’t capable of drawing blood and collecting plasma without taking a shit in it.”

            There is a yuge difference between crafting with relatively basic hand tools and phlebotomy.

            I am sure that Mexicans are fully capable of doing the work. But obtaining the certification and other prerequisites is another matter entirely.

            1. Its not even certification that’s the issue. Mexican clinics are not allowed to pay the donors, US clinics are. People are choosing to do it for the money, nothing more. Cut off the payment and they won’t donate on either side of the border

              1. True. And, of course, then we have to deal with a possible shortage of blood plasma. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to sell their “precious bodily fluids.” (apologies to Stanly Kubrick)

  9. It’s only fair that we no longer exploit poor people to obtain their body fluids for use by rich white folks.

  10. So Biden’s wall is to keep out blood donors.

    1. Not blood. Plasma. It’s (supposedly) illegal for even for Americans to donate blood if they’ve traveled abroad in the last 3 mos. Getting a transfusion in the UK, France, or Ireland in the 80s rules you out entirely.

      Not saying I necessarily agree with the rules but, again, the selective libertarian stance of “Some, but not all, rules are imaginary and dumb.” is (not really) puzzling.

  11. Depends on where you traveled and for how long. It is about risk reduction. There were also health questions.

    1. Right. Once again we have Reason arguing stupidly against itself (or its own straw men). We should allow people from countries that are failing to test their citizens for COVID because borders are imaginary!

      1. Mexico isn’t failing to test. They’ve got waaay more stringent rules there right now.

        And anyway – I thought that if we were vaccinated that Covid didn’t affect us?

  12. Give me your tired, your poor, your plasma.

    1. + I gotta remember that one

  13. Why can’t we set up clinics to harvest their organs in Mexico?

  14. It’s sad that Geraldo Rivera can’t sell his plasma anymore. Can Sally Jessy Raphael still sell hers?

  15. So Mexico won’t allow it’s citizens to donate plasma for money and this is of course the job of America to fix? Maybe Mexico needs to be made to work for Mexicans rather than exporting the issue.

    1. Thank you. I was having trouble finding where in the constitution the US was obligated to provide Mexicans any financial support for Mexican plasma.

  16. Can I echo Joe Biden, telling the government “to pay them more” if there’s a shortage of plasma donors?

    What does it say about the Biden administration, when “They claim that plasma centers put Mexican donors at medical risk with the promise of making a quick buck” but they say nothing about the medical risk for a quick buck to US citizens??? It says Joe puts America last.

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