From FresnoBee.com, Bill McEwen, 4 Jan 2012.
When a broken immigration system intersects with a patchwork health-care system — as it does here in the San Joaquin Valley — the inevitable result is the story of Marco Antonio Fuentes.
After more than a year of life-saving care at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Fuentes will continue his recovery with relatives in Northern California for a spell and then return home to Mexico.
In a perfect world, he’d take a side trip and share his tale with Congress before going back to his native country. I say this because the immigration and health care debates — which surely will boil again during the presidential election — are in dire need of an injection of honesty.
Fuentes came to the United States for a job and found one on a farm. He, like many other illegal immigrants, was willing to work hard for meager wages and live in the shadows.
Even growers admit that the large-scale farming that is the backbone of the Valley economy couldn’t exist without undocumented workers. Americans don’t have the skills to pick the crops or the desire to perform labor outdoors under a blazing sun for farmworker pay.
When Fuentes arrived here, he was welcomed by his employer into a system that produces world-class food and fiber at bargain prices and has had America’s nod-and-a-wink blessing for decades.
The problem for Fuentes was that he didn’t have health insurance and didn’t want to attract attention to the fact that he was here without papers. So he did what a lot of people in his situation do when they get sick: hope that the illness passes.
But there was no riding out gallstones that turned into a gallbladder infection and worse. He showed up at the hospital in intense pain the day after Christmas 2010. Twelve surgeries later, he finally can eat real food and drink water again.
Hospital officials told The Bee’s Barbara Anderson that they had yet to tally the cost of Fuentes’ care. But you have to believe that it was more than $1 million. Maybe $2 million. Maybe more.
Medical costs soar when illnesses go untreated or are ignored until a person ends up in the emergency room. The people most likely to delay treatment or go without preventive care are those lacking health insurance. Yet, as a country, we continue to debate the health-care reform signed into law by President Obama.
Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans block legitimate attempts at immigration reform because it’s in the best interest of both parties to preserve the status quo.
Democrats, because of their alliances with organized labor, oppose guest-worker programs. Republicans are afraid of offending voters who oppose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Once the Republicans decide on their presidential nominee to challenge Obama, the immigration and health-care controversies will intensify.
A GOP victory could result in the overturning of “Obamacare” — or a radical restructuring of the law. But don’t expect change on the immigration front.
People will keep on crossing the border to work the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. Farmers will welcome them. Politicians will grandstand. And the nativists will yell, “What part of illegal don’t you understand?”
Think about it the next time you fill your grocery cart.