When Luis Garza came to the United States from Mexico as a senior in high school, his biggest struggle was navigating the country’s health care system. He was able to get a green card without much trouble—his mother was a U.S. citizen—but his lack of English fluency and lack of health insurance made getting treatment for his debilitating back pain nearly impossible. “The only option I had was the community clinic, which had very long lines and super limited services,” he says. Things haven’t changed much for the state’s immigrant community. Today, many immigrant children lack health insurance.
The reason for this is directly tied to U.S. immigration policy. Many of the state’s immigrant families have both documented and undocumented members. “The children may qualify for health insurance,” Garza explains, “but the parents are afraid to come forward and enroll them because they fear it may have consequences for them.”
Because of this—and inspired by his own background—Garza has made a career out of helping Utah’s immigrant families obtain health care. He works for Communities United, an organization that was founded in 1999 to respond to high infant mortality rates among Hispanic immigrants in Midvale, Utah, and today works across the state, helping immigrants navigate the health care system. “If you’re not healthy,” Garza says, “you can’t fully function. You can’t fully integrate into the community. It affects your job, your education.”
They’ve been paying taxes, they’ve never been in trouble. They’ve been contributing to the society and the economy for years and years.
Every day, Garza and his colleagues work with families who are putting their health at risk because they’re afraid to interact with any government agencies. To him, the threat of deportation is simply unjust, especially when human beings are in desperate need of medical care. “For the majority of the immigrant community, they’ve been paying taxes, they’ve never been in trouble,” he says. “They’ve been contributing to the society and the economy for years and years. I feel like those people need to have a pathway to citizenship.” Getting these hardworking families out of the shadows could be literally lifesaving.