Speaking Out for Immigrants

Immigrants, even those who are here without documentation, deserve health care.

Let’s remember the context of the ugly outburst by Rep. Joe Wilson. R-S.C., who shouted, “You lie!” during President Obama’s eloquent speech to a joint session of Congress. Wilson was reacting to Obama saying, “There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

In the aftermath of Wilson’s rudeness, most Democrats and pundits denounced him for his lack of civility and his lack of respect for the office of the president.

But few people grappled with the central question: Why shouldn’t undocumented people get health care?

If we are to believe the written words of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, invoked by the president, that access to healthcare is above all a moral issue, then why should it matter if someone lacks legal status in this country?

Isn’t health care a human right? And aren’t immigrants, with or without legal documents, also human?

As the son of Mexican immigrants, I often ask myself: Where’s our Gandhi who will stage a prolonged hunger strike for the humanity of undocumented workers? Where’s our Martin Luther King with the magnificent oratory skills capable of moving a country in the right direction for those who toil in our agricultural fields, front yards, homes and kitchens?

Americans benefit tremendously from the sweat and labor of undocumented immigrants.

Immigrants have historically contributed to making this nation the most powerful and affluent country in the world. From building the railroads to the freeways, from making the bricks to the buildings, from growing our food to serving it, from raising the children of the wealthy to cleaning their homes, immigrants continue to make a valuable contribution to this country.

What’s more, while these immigrants cannot receive Social Security benefits, they pay into the system.

This is definitely not the time for Obama and the Democrats to try to get the Republicans on board by denying immigrants health care.

It is time for both Democrats and Republicans, along with the citizenry of this country, to acknowledge and appreciate the more than 12 million undocumented workers who help us all in so many ways.

“Los de abajo” (those on the bottom) should be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor with a sense of dignity and respect.

They earn it everyday when they work hard here in the United States.

Alvaro Huerta is a Ph.D. student in the department of city and regional planning at the University of California — Berkeley and a visiting scholar at the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA.