An Alexandria doctor who specializes in providing physical examinations for immigrants needing them for permanent residency has been charged with sexually molesting a patient during such an exam, police said yesterday.
Fausto D. Fernandez, 64, faces one count of misdemeanor sexual battery based on the allegations of a 38-year-old Alexandria man. The man visited Fernandez's King Street office Nov. 1 and several weeks later told authorities that the doctor molested him during the examination, police said.
Fernandez turned himself in to police Tuesday afternoon and was released from the Alexandria city jail that night on a $2,500 cash bond. He did not respond to messages left yesterday at his office.
Alexandria police issued a call for any additional victims to contact authorities and posted Fernandez's picture on the city's Web site. Police and immigration advocates said immigrants often are reluctant to come forward in such circumstances, for reasons that can range from cultural differences to fear of dealing with law enforcement.
"In a case like this we want to reach out to see if there are any other patients who may also have been victimized," Alexandria police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch said. "We understand that some people may be reluctant to come forward. We are not focusing on anyone's immigration status."
The case highlights what federal officials and immigration lawyers say is a growing area of medical practice. Nearly all immigrants seeking permanent resident status, or green cards, are required to undergo a physical, which, according to guidelines, must include "complete disrobing."
The exams, which federal officials said have their origin in the days when immigrants were checked for communicable diseases at New York's Ellis Island, also include tests for tuberculosis, HIV and syphilis, vaccinations for conditions such as mumps and measles and a mental status examination.
Performing these exams are doctors, such as Fernandez, who are on a government-designated list of "civil surgeons." To be on the list, doctors must submit copies of their medical license; a resume that shows four years of professional experience not including residency and proof of citizenship, said Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.
Doctors also must charge a "reasonable fee" for the exams.
Lawyers who deal regularly with immigrants were critical of those doctors yesterday, saying they generally perform exams that are not thorough and involve little real diagnosis. "It's an assembly line," said one lawyer, who like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity. "There's not a lot of medicine involved."
But Strassberger and other federal officials defended the doctors. There are more than 50 physicians and clinics on the government-approved list for the District and Northern Virginia. Immigrants can locate them on the Web site of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of Homeland Security, or by calling a toll-free government customer service center.
"I would not accept anyone saying these are not valid physicals," Strassberger said. "They are just as valid as any physical someone would get to meet other requirements for employment or to participate in sports."
Fernandez is scheduled to appear in court next week. He faces up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine if convicted.