Viewpoints

Immigrants pay billions in state and local taxes. Don’t they deserve access to health care?

My story begins with my mami (mommy).

She had just found out she was pregnant again when she decided to immigrate to the United States. She was tired of working long hours, jumping from town to town and still not being able to provide for her growing family.

One bright and early morning, she dropped off my two younger sisters and me with my abuelita (grandma), saying “Al rato regreso. Voy a la tienda.” (I’ll be back. I’m going to the store). What I did not know at the time was that I wouldn’t see her for again for another three years.

When I was 7, my mom saved enough money to send for a coyote to help me cross the border into the U.S. The journey is one I will never forget.

Coming to America has been the biggest blessing to my mom. She says, “It was the hardest decision I have ever made, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” What she didn’t know was that her “blessing” was going to also be the hardest thing to overcome.

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Coming to the U.S. without papeles (papers) meant that it would be extremely difficult for her to work at a job with healthy working conditions and adequate medical coverage, much less enough time and money to spend with her four children.

Once my sisters and I had joined my mother in the U.S., it would mean we too would not receive the proper medical coverage we deserved. Often times when we would get sick, my mom could only buy over-the-counter medicine when our Mexican remedies could not get the job done.

I can recall once, when my mother had fallen really sick with the flu, she could barely get up to walk to the restroom. I asked her why she couldn’t just go to the doctor. That was not the last time I saw my mother face sickness without being able to turn to proper medical aid.

Unfortunately, she is not alone.

Close to 90 percent of the roughly 1.2 million undocumented immigrants who are low-income still lack access to healthcare. Ironically enough, while undocumented immigrants collectively contribute billions of dollars in state and local taxes, they are completely cut out of public programs.

Even within my family there are immediate differences in our health care coverage.

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I come from a mixed-status household where my mother and two of my younger sisters are undocumented, while I am a part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and my youngest sister, who was born in the U.S, is a citizen. This means that my mother doesn’t qualify for medical coverage at all. My two younger sisters, however, do have access to coverage here in California, thanks to a law that was enacted a few years ago. But they too will find themselves without medical coverage when they turn 19.

Any policy that doesn’t cover everyone is only a Band-Aid for a much bigger problem, a problem that’s simply unjust and inhumane.

I am extremely proud to call California my home. Our beautiful state has been the most progressive in setting the bar when it comes to access to health care. Yet, we still need to create pathways to health for all – regardless of race, income, gender or immigration status.

California should seize this opportunity to show the rest of the country how we can transform health care in a way that ensures a prosperous and inclusive future for entire communities, cities, counties and states. It all starts with making every Californian’s health the state’s top priority.

Aimee Mestas is a DACA recipient and youth advocate for LOUD for Tomorrow.
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