by Jan Steckel, MD
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]aria was our housekeeper from Guatemala when I was small. She had a lovely laugh and never got mad at my brother and me. She fed us and bathed us, and we loved her.
When I was five years old, I cut the telephone line with my blunt safety scissors because she was talking on it, and I wanted her attention. When she realized what I had done, she just cracked up.
One day, two men in suits came to the door and asked for Maria. My mom said that she wasn’t there, but the men came in anyway. They were from Immigration. A housekeeper down the street was jealous of Maria over a man and had tipped off La Migra that she didn’t have a green card. The men took Maria away.
My mother went to visit Maria in the jail downtown. Maria was crying, saying she was in a jail cell with prostitutes and women who scared her. She kept saying that she was a good girl, that all she wanted to do was support her family in Guatemala. My mother couldn’t do anything for her and came back very upset.
Maria disappeared after that. I missed her. We got another housekeeper. Six months later, Maria came back to visit with a stuffed donkey from Guatemala for my little brother. My mother couldn’t take her back because of the new housekeeper, but she said she would give her a reference for work with another family.
Our current policy isn’t keeping people out. It’s just disrupting lives. I was partly raised by Latin American housekeepers, and I know my state, California, wouldn’t run without undocumented workers.
When I grew up, I became a pediatrician and took care of Spanish-speaking children, including children of field-workers, housekeepers, gardeners, restaurant staff, and all the other laborers on whom our economy depends.
I’ve seen a little girl who couldn’t get antibiotics for a bad dental infection because she wasn’t born in this country. I’ve seen a little boy whose appendix burst because he didn’t have medical insurance and the university hospital sent him away. I’ve even seen an infant die because his Spanish-speaking parents couldn’t get access to medical care in the richest country on earth.
It’s time to bring immigrant workers out of the shadows. It’s time to treat them like human beings and offer a path to citizenship. It’s time to take care of our laborers and their families, not throw them in jail and let their kids suffer and die.