Editorials | July 2007
|Healthcare for Illegal Immigrants?|
Domenico Maceri - PVNN
“We have the right to health services,” stated Maria Cortez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico living in Southern California. Without legal American documents, Maria went to the Mexican consulate to obtain a Matricula Consular, a Mexican I.D. card which is accepted in the U.S. by banks and other agencies. Maria also got information from Mexican officials about healthcare availability in the U.S.
|Undocumented workers living in the US typically stay away from doctors and hospitals for fear that the information they provide will be used to deport them.|
To support its citizens living abroad, Mexico began a program called Ventanillas a la Salud, Health Windows. It’s a way of providing information to Mexican residents of the U.S. about what kind of healthcare is available to them.
Undocumented workers living in the U.S. typically stay away from doctors and hospitals for fear that the information they provide will be used to deport them. They also often have no health insurance. Some of them believe that you must have a green card even to buy private medical insurance.
Yet, in spite of their precarious residential status, undocumented workers have basic rights which include some form of healthcare. Ventanillas is designed to provide that information about clinics and other government programs they may qualify. It’s also designed to encourage Mexican residents in the U.S. to see doctors before things get so out of control and have to resort to emergency rooms.
When that happens it’s not just the patient that suffers. Often it may be too late to solve problems and it is also very expensive.
Of course, when people show up at emergency centers, they cannot be turned away. That’s the law. If they cannot pay, someone else ends up picking up the tab. Typically the federal government or those who have medical insurance since prices are raised for those who can pay.
Healthcare is expensive, but some free clinics are available which provide services to everyone. Unfortunately, fear of officialdom keeps people away. That’s why Ventanillas is so important.
Mexican officials say that their program of informing their citizens eventually saves the U.S. money because it encourages prevention. That is true. Prevention works.
Yet, critics claim that undocumented workers are a strain on medical services. It is estimated that undocumented workers cost Los Angeles County $440 million in 2005. Critics also believe that providing information encourages and enables people to stay in the U.S. illegally. If they did not get any services, their line goes, undocumented workers would go back home.
Of course, without jobs these people would not need medical services in the U.S. because they’d be back home. It’s jobs which pay as much as ten times what they could earn in their home country that pushed them to make the journey north. Since they work, one would think they’d qualify for medical insurance. But in many cases they don’t because their companies pay them little and give them no benefits. In a way, taxpayers get stuck with the bill, subsidizing these companies.
It’s strange that people complain a lot about the presence of undocumented workers but very little is heard about the companies doing the hiring. Workers in a way subsidize the companies by accepting lower salaries and to a certain extent the American consumers who benefit from lower prices. Yet, when it comes to caring for the workers’ health, no one wants to be involved.
Except for the Mexican government which tries to protect its citizens. The role of any government is to provide support to its citizens regardless of where they happened to be. That’s what Ventanillas tries to do.
Maria Cortez went to the Mexican consulate for her ID card. She got more than that. The information she received made her realize that while she may not be a legal resident of the U.S., she and her husband are not “delinquents” because they “work.” Indeed. They also deserve healthcare. Everyone does.
Domenico Maceri, PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. He is the author of a book on Pirandello, one on Spanish grammar, and another on Italian grammar. He has also published a number of articles in newspapers and magazines around the world, some of which have won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.
Click HERE for more articles by Domenico Maceri.