By Edgar Castellano
I know firsthand the health disparities faced by members of the undocumented community. Shortly after graduating high school, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Because of her undocumented status, it took her nearly five months to receive life-saving treatment. Due to the delay, her cancer metastasized, and what should have been one affordable surgery ended up becoming three costly ones.
At age 17, I took a job for $4 an hour working under the table at a local restaurant to help out with my mother’s medical bills. During my nightly bus rides home from work, I met many individuals in similar situations who also lacked adequate access to health care or nutritious foods. Many of these individuals were clearly exhausted and not well. That’s when I reached the conclusion that a lack of resources for anyone, ultimately, has a negative impact on our entire community. And it is precisely why I am pursing a medical degree.
Sadly, these sort of disparities are the norm within the immigrant and undocumented community. Many within these communities are barred from receiving public assistance due to federal policies enacted in 1996. A recent Supreme Court ruling, supported by the Trump administration, further enhanced these “public charge” rules by reinforcing draconian rules that prevent any individual seeking permanent legal status from accessing federal aid programs.
To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has further deepened the economic and social disparities faced by the undocumented community. Research shows that communities of color, specifically the undocumented community, are most affected by inadequate health care access and low-paying jobs. These disparities lead to aggravated chronic health conditions and overcrowded housing quarters during a time of needed social distancing.
This hardline stance from federal, state and local governments is immoral and does not match reality. Little to no resources are provided to the undocumented community, yet they are being exploited as essential workers who are vital towards keeping the economy going. As a matter of fact, a recent study shows that although undocumented workers make up a parsley 10 percent of the state’s workforce, they pay more than $3 billion in state and local taxes each year.
Still, undocumented residents are forgotten by leaders who fail to realize how embedded these individuals and families are in our communities.
Fortunately, programs exist such as Clinica Martin Baro (CMB), a student run free clinic in San Francisco’s Mission District that supports and provides free health care support and legal services to the undocumented community. CMB consists of undergraduate students from San Francisco State University (SFSU) and collaborates with the School of Medicine of the University of San Francisco (UCSF).
In less than a month, combined efforts from these organizations have been able to support over 480 individuals from the undocumented community who have lost health care access.
Organizations like these have ignited a recent push to raise awareness of the conditions faced by the undocumented community in order to pass legislation to ensure access to basic human rights, specifically those who have lost health care within the city and county of San Francisco.
As a Dreamer, this is personal; hearing of individuals who have recently lost their health care, cannot afford Healthy SF or have been denied care due to their immigration status, is a very difficult plight to accept. I know of someone who was diagnosed with cancer but was denied care at the San Francisco General due to her legal status. I cannot ignore these stories and will use my platform in order to fight these disparities, and when I become a physician, I want to be able to care for all patients, regardless of their immigration status.
In closing, there exists strength in the collective community organizations and an awareness
that equity belongs to everyone including the invisible undocumented community. For those who harbor anti-immigrant feelings, I share with you that the majority do not come here because they want to abandon their cultural, familial, and home country ties. Most come for economic opportunities and survival.
And unlike the rhetoric of the President, undocumented individuals are not criminals, they are your neighbors, your doctor, your nurse, your friend, your colleague, your supervisor. They are our community.
Edgar Castellano was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and raised in East Oakland. He graduated in Molecular Cell Biology from San Francisco State University and is currently applying to medical school to become an oncologist.