‘Jane The Virgin’ brings plight of California’s undocumented to life

From left, Ivonne Coll, Gina Rodriguez and Andrea Navedo appear in a scene from “Jane The Virgin,” which recently took on the issue of undocumented immigrants and health care.
From left, Ivonne Coll, Gina Rodriguez and Andrea Navedo appear in a scene from “Jane The Virgin,” which recently took on the issue of undocumented immigrants and health care. The CW

On Monday nights, I escape from the stress of being a medical student and the ins and outs of daily life through an hour of laughs and plot twists. After just a few episodes, I’ve been drawn into the world of “Jane The Virgin.”

The lead character, played by Gina Rodriguez, is a refreshing change of pace from your standard sitcom. It is empowering to watch a young Latina play the lead role in a national primetime show. I feel connected to Jane as I watch her try to balance her family life, school and job – all while trying to find happiness.

In a recent episode, Jane’s story highlights a fear that more than 2 million Californians live daily. Jane’s grandmother was pushed down a staircase and hospitalized with serious injuries. As with any trauma, families worry about their loved one’s well-being, but this story took an even more serious twist. Jane’s grandmother is undocumented, and the doctor threatens that she will be discharged, federal immigration officials will be notified and she will be deported.

Did that just happen? Is primetime TV talking about one of my biggest fears? In an instant, my hourlong escape ripped right into my life, since I am an undocumented Californian.

I was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and emigrated to the United States when I was just 3 years old. I have been granted temporary protected status, an immigration status similar to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Barack Obama’s recent executive action that will benefit millions of undocumented residents.

The undocumented live in fear of having their families ripped apart. Families are driven to life in the shadows, even as they go to school and work hard in search of a brighter future. It seems that what gets lost is that we – my family, my friends, your neighbors, your co-workers – are human.

Nearly half of undocumented Californians have lived in the state for more than 10 years. More than 1.2 million of the state’s children have at least one undocumented immigrant parent. The daily trauma from the threat of deportation is unhealthy. It is a blanket that stifles and stymies the hard work and growth of many Californians.

Having experienced firsthand how education, income level and immigration status dictate access to health care and educational opportunities, I have worked hard for more than 12 years to advocate for health and education equity for undocumented people. Now I’m studying at UC Davis School of Medicine, with the goal of returning to Southern California to serve the community I call home.

Jane’s grandmother – in critical condition – became a financial liability to the hospital due to her immigration status. As the doctor broke the news to Jane, while her grandmother laid unconscious behind her, my heart broke.

And this is what was so shocking about the episode. It is difficult to see how someone who swore under the Hippocratic oath to “first, do no harm” – the same oath I have taken – is forced to take such an inhumane approach and withhold comfort and care in a patient’s hour of need.

Undocumented residents and their families are human, and it is time to treat them that way. Immigration reform isn’t about just boosting our national economy or scoring political points – it’s about human rights.

It is about committing to be fair to men, women and children who are only in search of a brighter future. We can start by providing equal access to affordable health care to all Californians.

Carol’s Montes Castellon, a second-year student at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, is a supporter of Health4All.

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