Opinion: The US Supreme Court Has a Moral Duty to Stand By Immigrant Families

19.May.16

Originally published on Fox New Latino

My dad has always been a towering figure in my life. At 6’3 he has always stood taller than me and I’ve always looked up to him as an example of iron willpower and determination.

I grew up watching him wake up at 7 a.m. every day, only to come home late at night covered in dust and sweat after performing back-breaking construction work. Two years ago, when he was 52, my father received devastating news — he was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of degenerative arthritis in both hip joints.

The doctors were clear: He would lose his ability to walk in a few months if he did not receive hip replacement surgery.

At that moment, more than a decade of paying taxes and working hard didn’t mean so much. He and my mom and I were undocumented immigrants. We didn’t have health insurance to pay for the costly surgery.

Unfortunately, this horrible disease set back my parents dreams and goals of making life better for us. My dad was left unable to perform the physical work that his job required. The sharp pains and emotional toll of this disease left him unable to work less and less every day.

Ours was one of the many hardships facing undocumented immigrants in this country who live in the shadows out of fear that at any moment their families could be ripped apart if a relative is deported.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our families, who work hard and contribute to the public good with tax dollars and social security contributions, shouldn’t have to live in hiding and on the margins. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently debating President Obama’s executive orders that would provide relief for deportation for immigrants brought to this country as children and for immigrants with American-born children. The case landed with the high court after Republican governors filed a lawsuit to stop the deportation relief. The court’s decision is expected any day now.

The president’s deportation relief would have saved my family and countless others who are turned away by a system that vilifies us. Now the court has a moral decision to make that will set the course for how my family will be treated in this country.

My parents and I came to the United States 15 years ago on the heels of a severe economic crisis in our home country of Argentina. We came on a tourist visa and overstayed. My dad began working as a carpenter and my mother as a housekeeper. Years of hard work allowed them to start their own construction company and buy a home. They have been deeply involved in their community and are very grateful to contribute to their adoptive country by employing people in the ever-growing family that they consider their business to be.

When my dad became sick, the doctors told us that the surgery would cost $80,000. That was in addition to the expenses on our family during my dad’s recovery time which was expected to last two months. We desperately sought help and were turned away everywhere we went, hospitals refused to operate on my dad because he had no insurance and we found no one to finance the surgery. Through sheer luck my dad remodeled the apartment of an orthopedic surgeon from Ohio named Keith Berend, who out of the goodness of his heart decided to help us. We raised $15,000 from our community to help cover the costs of the operation. When the doctor saw our fundraising efforts, he decided to charge us $12,000 for the surgery, ensuring that we would come out of this ordeal debt free.

We were lucky. We were also informed. My family has been involved in the immigration rights movement, where we can count on the support of allies and community members sympathetic to our struggles. Unfortunately for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows, this is not the case. The system has left them behind and they have no one to turn to when their very lives depend on acquiring help.

A friend of mine, Carlos A. Roa, lost his father, who was also undocumented, to cancer after he was unable to acquire health insurance. His father could not afford going to a doctor and his cancer was detected too late to get proper treatment. He was treated in an emergency room, the only place where undocumented immigrants can readily receive medical care. If the system would have treated his family more humanely, perhaps his father would still be here. Throughout my father’s illness, we always held the hope that the president’s executive order would allow him to qualify for a health care plan.

The Supreme Court has a moral responsibility. It holds in its power the aspirations of millions of immigrant families who work hard every day to build a better future for themselves and their children, as well as the ability to determine their physical well-being and survival. This was a lesson I learned too well through my father’s ordeal. We hope the court gives these families long-needed relief. Only then will the court stand on the right side of history.