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Death Sentence for Rafael and Other Immigrants

Rafael (not his real name), a construction worker, came to us a sick man. We went the usual procedure of trying to arrange help for him before his cancer became any worse. We tried to arrange an eligibility card—called a Gold Card—but were unsuccessful because he didn’t have a picture ID. We accompanied him to the Salvadoran consulate to get help in receiving an ID, but they were unable to help.

Treatment for Rafael was going nowhere.

We were becoming desperate as Rafael was becoming sicker and sicker. His neck had grown to the size of two necks. He was feeling very bad.

We went to one of the best cancer hospitals in Houston and in the whole world, but were refused. There was an insurmountable barrier. It was a strange feeling standing in front of this hospital with Rafael and unable to arrange treatment, his being turned away to die.

Finally, another day, out of the blue came a miracle via a local doctor and treatment was arranged.

Rafael is a new man; the swelling has receded.

Talk about resurrection!

Violence Against Immigrants

Hardly a week goes by that we don’t receive at Casa Juan Diego a worker all black and blue as a result of being robbed. One wonders why the robbers attack the poor, but they know they don’t have bank accounts.

Worse yet are the deep stab wounds or broken bones that occur during the robberies. If the person has an incision from the sternum to below the navel, you know the surgeons had to operate.

Two men arrived recently who had been assaulted and robbed. One had his leg broken badly and the other a busted knee cap. The one with the broken knee cap tried to resist and then negotiate with the robber, but the robber spoke only English.

Both men returned home to their respective countries with our help—not only without money for their families, but permanently scarred.

Social Workers

There is tremendous pressure on hospital social workers to get the sick and injured out of the hospital since they need the beds for others and because of the need for cash flow.

Hospital emergency rooms must accept seriously ill people and treat them. They are reimbursed, of course, through emergency Medicaid.

The hitch is care after the hospitalization. There are no government funds available for immigrants without valid social security numbers, no matter how many years they have worked here and contributed to the economy. So the sick and injured immigrant is basically homeless.

This, of course, means that the government saves millions of dollars by not helping immigrants with housing when they are disabled. The taxpayers are saved much by this refusal to help the poor immigrant in any way, shape, or form.

This means that José, who came to us just yesterday with no hands and missing one foot after a work accident in which his metal ladder fell on live wires which burned up his hands and leg, will receive nothing. The contractor who hired him refused any assistance. Or Santiago, who fell off a scaffold and broke his back in various places and is now completely paralyzed. The only hope for his future is a wheel chair which he could control with a mechanical stick for his mouth. He can only talk and see; he cannot move any other part of his body. The contractor refused help.

The social worker is pressured to do something about getting the sick and injured out of the hospital, and they in turn pressure us to take patients off their hands.

This is the reason Casa Juan Diego is supporting so many sick and injured—no government agency will do so nor is allowed to do so.

Because of the pressure to move people out of the hospital, the social worker may present a rosy picture about the health of the individual, whereas in reality they may be one step above dying or totally helpless in caring for their basic needs. Sometimes patients arrive in an ambulance—but all this saves taxpayers money.

We are up to our neck in sick and injured people, but we receive them in love and joy and they, in their suffering, inspire as they try to continue on with life and don’t completely give up hope.
Juan just arrived in a wheel chair. He is 19 years old and a paraplegic, having been shot in the back in Houston.

He was thrilled with the celebration of the Mass with the visiting Bishops who came to learn about Casa Juan Diego.

It was the first time he had attended Mass and he looks forward to telling his story of coming to the United States. Usually Casa Juan Diego tries to have one of the immigrants tell their story of how they got here before we begin the celebration of the Mass. Juan was inspired by the talk presented by another immigrant.

Families of the Deported

As deportations increase almost astronomically these days, with raids across the country in work places and Immigration officers going to homes to pick people up, not only are employers hurting, unable to find workers, but the families of the deported are suffering.

Frequently, women come to ask for help at Casa Juan Diego because their husbands have been deported. They have children who have been going to school here for several years while the husband worked in the local economy. Now they have no breadwinner.

Even those who decide to return to their country when the husband has been deported are often very much in crisis. Recently the Mexican Consulate called us to ask if we could receive a mother who had been staying with her children for a week in a bus station with her little ones. She had been on her way home to Oaxaca from another state with her two little ones when she went into labor in Houston. Her child was suddenly and unexpectedly born at St. Joseph’s Medical Center and was in intensive care. Could we take in the mother with the two other children? Of course we could.

The same day a mother called to ask if she could stay. She has four children and the youngest was three days old. She had called to shelters around town but no one had room. We couldn’t say no.

Death Sentence

A new federal government policy requires that Medicaid funds not be used to assist a new baby born in the United States whose parents cannot yet prove the legality of the child. (In Houston, for example, it takes three months before one can obtain a birth certificate.) This means that in the first three months of life, medical care will not be available to the babies of immigrants during the first three crucial months before their immune systems have developed.

Immigrants Continue to Contribute to the Economy in Sickness and Death

In the immigration debate the truth is sometimes missing in action.

We have already mentioned in other issues the great disparity in salaries between the documented and undocumented worker. If a professional carpenter who is an immigrant is paid a half a salary, one wonders who receives the other half—and how many contribute half of their salary to the economy?

The worker may work harder, longer, and cheaper, which helps advance the economy, but also when sick or injured or unemployed, receives nothing from the government. No taxpayer money goes to them.

Even in death, the immigrants are not compensated. The families of the deceased go to community, relatives, neighbors, and friends to bury the dead.

Schizophrenic Policy

The immigrant certainly receives a contradictory message from society. On one side we hear that undocumented immigrants should not be here seeking “handouts.” We have talk shows who daily talk about the terrible “illegal aliens.”

But then on the other side we see American contractors begging for workers. The message is mixed.

Today a Spanish-speaking immigrant family came to assist those most in need at Casa Juan Diego with a check for $10,000. They can’t bear to see the neglect of the immigrants who have contributed so much to society.

We are grateful for the generous support of our readers that allows us to serve so many people.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVI, No. 6, November-December 2006.