Public Comment

In Commemoration of Cesar Chavez--a shot across the bow for immigrants rights to health care in CCCC!!

By Mark Sapir, M.D., M.P.H.
Wednesday April 06, 2011 - 01:34:00 PM

Today, Yesterday, April 5, 2011, the Contra Costa County, CA Board of Supervisors conducted their 18th annual commemoration of the life and work of Cesar E. Chavez founder of the United Farm Workers Union. In response, a group of 15 representing the Richmond Progressive Alliance, doctors and other staff at the Contra Costa County Public Clinic system and the Health Care Action Team-East Bay let the Board know that their decision in 2009 excluding undocumented immigrants from public clinics must be reconsidered, is unacceptable, stands in contradiction to their honoring Cesar Chavez and shall not stand.  

Nine of us spoke out against their xenophobic policy during the open comment session before the Chavez Commemoration (there were no other speakers on other topics during this period). The coup de grace came when the Board’s Keynote Speaker and honoree, Professor Blas Guerrero, after speaking at length about how, when Blas was a young child, Cesar Chavez had motivated his mother and himself to believe that he could in fact rise above oppressive field labor and go to college, chided the Board on betraying Cesar’s legacy with their discriminatory practices.  

The Board was rattled by Blas’ comments. And perhaps as well by the silent picket sign holders in a line backing those comments and adding various others at the rear of the auditorium; and the flyer (attached) distributed to the 40 or so high school Latino youth who were brought to the even from school to enjoy the commemoration, watch Aztec dancers, hear a Mariachi band and enjoy a Mexican lunch. In wrap up, Board member John Goia responded from the mike directly to Blas to say (what we all knew) that the Board in 2009 had allocated 1.4 million dollars to a few non-profit clinics to partially cover some care for the people they decided to discriminate against (of course he avoided using the word “discrimination”).  

In the earlier open mike period one of the young women family practice docs in the County system talked about some patients who, now lacking coverage for medications, had allowed dangerous and potentially lethal diseases to get out of control. Mike Parker of the Richmond Progressive Alliance pointed out the public knowledge that reducing primary care access to any population simply worsens the acuity level and the costs when they show up at the ER where the public has to pay the higher cost of uncompensated care through taxes. He wondered out loud if, given the unlikelihood that the exclusion of immigrants has or could ever save the 9 million the budget claims, the Board policy was anything more than a capitulation to Right Wing racism and xenophobia.  

The Board can reconsider and reverse the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the Public Health Care Plan during its upcoming budget debates. Hopefully we have laid the groundwork for a protracted effort to bring this change about. What is at stake in addition to the care of thousands of people in Contra Costa County, is also the nationwide attacks on worker and minority groups’ democratic and human rights. The scapegoating of immigrants that this policy represents is part of the rollback of all of our rights, of collective bargaining and unionization rights, of public services, and of the right to a job and job security. To the undocumented, as to us all, the right to health care is part of the struggle to be treated as human beings who have unalienable rights that must be preserved and honored.