By Sophia Goodwin-Rice
For many of us, access to healthcare is a given. Sure, the Willamette community has faced its battles over student healthcare with the removal of physical health services from Bishop this year, and there’s no doubt that students have given the topic lots of thought and consideration. At the same time, though, we know that there are still people looking out for us. As citizens of the United States, most Willamette students are protected under healthcare legislation, and while trips to the doctor or the emergency room can be expensive, we don’t live in fear that it will lead to deportation or detainment. For 11 million people living in the United States, however, this is the reality.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a screening of the documentary “Clínica de Migrantes,” an event put on by WU Causa and the Willamette Events Board. I’d seen the film before, in my Spanish class last semester, but it’s one of those movies that you can watch over and over and be impacted in a new way every time. The story follows a free clinic set up in Philadelphia for undocumented immigrants and their families, people who might not be able to find affordable healthcare anywhere else. The clinic is staffed with doctors and medical students, all of whom work pro bono, and provides medical care to patients who otherwise would end up in the incredibly expensive emergency room, where they could get charged hundreds of dollars for being given an aspirin.
It’s a heart wrenching film; several of the patients shown have dealt with domestic violence, some have been kicked out of hospitals and refused more care, while the majority have left their families behind in their home countries and haven’t seen their children in years. They work long hours for little pay, and when they’re struck with an injury or illness, often times they continue to work through the pain. The clinic showed in the film, Puentes de Salud, sees at least 10,000 patients every year in a small space, and has received little outside funding and support.
The United States’ healthcare system leaves a lot to be desired, but somehow the millions of undocumented workers living among us still get swept under the rug no matter what. The Affordable Care Act makes no mention of coverage for such immigrants, and while many Americans defend the idea that immigrants are unwelcome threats, the fact still remains that they were, in a sense, invited here.
Restaurants, fields and factories all benefit from the cheap labor that undocumented immigrants give, free of employer obligations that come with documented citizens. Yet when it comes time to give their workers the access to basic human needs, employers balk. “It’s just too much,” complained one manager in a scene of “Clínica de Migrantes,” as the founder of the clinic met with local restaurant owners to discuss a day in which a third of the restaurants’ total sales went to the clinic. Too much to provide medical attention to the workers, whom the business depends on to stay open and functioning.
The struggles of undocumented workers in the United States often stay quiet, as the threat of deportation looms and documented Americans stay relatively uneducated on the issues. Yet films like “Clínica” provide a powerful, raw look into the truth of the system and call viewers to take action towards reform. The best way to do this is, especially on a campus like Willamette’s, is to show up. The screening I went to was attended by relatively few students, while the message deserves to be broadcast across the entire school.
You may not think it affects you directly or that you can do anything to help, but the truth is that it may be a reality for one of your classmates or friends. It affects the community in which you live, the industries that support the United States and millions of hardworking people who share this country as their home. So please, show up for such events. Begin to understand the issues that hide in the shadows, and spread the word everyone starts to understand. It shouldn’t just be the duty of a tiny clinic in Pennsylvania.