In a Perspective piece in last week’s New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. James Breen writes of a segment of the population invisible to health care system reform: undocumented immigrants. Breen asks, If the currently proposed incarnation of health care delivery reform becomes reality, tens of millions of Americans suddenly have insurance, and charity medical care is drastically reduced as the need for it dries up, what will happen to those undocumented immigrants who currently receive that charity care but neither have insurance nor would be eligible to receive it under the Affordable Care Act?
This is a real concern in the current political and social climate. Just as in the past it was considered legitimate to treat certain groups of people as less worthy of respect than others — in our country, most notably African-Americans — so today it seems to be accepted, even respectable, to consider undocumented immigrants as something a little above vermin. This lower-class status is assumed in public discourse, is a plank in political party platforms, and is even becoming enshrined in the law of the land.
Whatever one thinks of how we should ultimately deal with the issue of undocumented immigrants, the fact is, they are here. Roughly 11 million of them. They are endowed with the same human dignity as anyone else. And they will need health care.
In the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus contrasted an expert in the law with a traveling Samaritan. The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” — that is, “Who is deserving of my care?” The Samaritan didn’t ask who was his neighbor; he was the neighbor, to a foreigner. And in Leviticus 19 we read, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (NIV) God does not make a distinction between “legal” and “illegal” foreigners. If our health care system does, then here is another place for the Church to step in and demonstrate God’s heart for “the foreigner among you.” By our advocacy for caring for these fellow humans, as well our actual provision of that care where possible, we can embody the love of God in a way that will contrast starkly with the increasingly strident voices around us.