CSL and Grifols sue US border patrol for blocking Mexican plasma donations
Large plasma companies CSL Behring and Grifols recently sued US Customs and Border Patrol, which last summer stopped allowing Mexican citizens from crossing into the US on temporary visas to sell their blood plasma.
The ban, according to the Australia- and Spain-based companies, is based “solely on CBP’s newfound determination that donating plasma is somehow ‘labor for hire,'” and it means that there may be plasma shortages, according to the suit re-filed in DC District Court. The companies previously lost a prior suit last year as the judge dismissed their complaint for lack of standing.
CSL operates a network of 15 plasma collection centers near the southern border in Texas and Arizona, with plans to open two more centers shortly, including its first on the California border. Grifols, meanwhile, operates 24 such centers in Arizona, Texas and California, according to the suit. The companies estimate that these cross-border donations are responsible for about 5-10% of all US plasma collections.
“Such a disruption in plasma donations is especially critical now, when more plasma than ever is required to meet the growing need for plasma-based therapies, and when the United States has already suffered a 20% industry-wide drop in donations due to the pandemic,” the suit says.
The companies claim that CBP “needlessly pulled the rug out from under plasma industry donors and employees as well as the patients” as plasma is a crucial ingredient for some treatments for serious diseases that affect more than 125,000 Americans, including primary and secondary immune deficiencies, respiratory diseases, neurological disorders, and hemophilia and other blood disorders.
“For instance, immunoglobulin therapy for a single patient suffering from one of a host of primary and secondary immune deficiencies requires about 130 donations of plasma annually, and a year of therapy for a single hemophilia patient requires about 1,200 donations,” the suit says.
But since last June, CBP has decided that 30 years of precedent should be overturned, and the agency sent back all potential donors from Mexico, claiming the donations are part of this “labor for hire” operation.
The companies, however, claim that the fact that a donor receives payment as part of the donation process “is incidental to the service transaction and does not somehow transform the relationship into anything ‘akin to employment or contract work.'”
According to ProPublica, before the pandemic, donors could make about $4,000 annually if they donated as often as possible. US law allows for 96 donations per year, whereas European law allows for 33 donations per year. Since the pandemic, those prices have gone up as donations become more scarce.
The ban has had a particularly outsized effect on several of the plaintiffs, including Kevin Rasmussen, who is a regular plasma donor at CSL Plasma’s center in Douglas, AZ. He donates plasma about eight times per month, the maximum permitted by FDA regulations, in order to help support his family and wife, who has a chronic health condition and is often unable to work, the suit says.