Illegal Heroes

You want heroes? Illegal immigrants are some of the most heroic people I have ever seen. Giving up everything for a chance of a better life for their families, coming here, working on farms, factories, cutting our grass, raising our children, taking care of our elderly, working like slaves, living like peasants; that is their America, and it’s better than the places they come from.




On a busy street, with the front door four feet from the street lives a family of five. They rent one of the apartments. It’s small. Two bedrooms, a kitchen without a table and a small living room. A bathroom small enough to serve as a closet in a different place is filled with tools to help a handicapped child.

His father carries him out. He’s five. His teeth are separated by quarter inch spaces but clean. They protrude from his white lips, almost like a set of joke teeth you would but at a novelty store. Only this is no joke. The boy’s skin is grey. He hasn’t eaten in two days and has been vomiting non stop. The father lays the boy on the stretcher. I can only watch him, stunned. I’ve never seen a living child look so dead. He is breathing. He looks at me when I come close, looks me in the eye and smiles. I put the blood pressure cuff around his tiny arm and it begins to inflate. The child doesn’t flinch.

His mother enters the back of the rescue holding her daughter. She is one years old, beautiful dark curls surround her healthy, chubby face. She cries, non-stop. She too has been sick for days. What little Spanish I know is enough. These kids are sick. The boy has Cerebral Palsey. The girl is healthy. Another child stays at home with his father as I take the mom and two kids to the hospital.

She is a pretty woman, probably no more than twenty. Her hair is tied back with an elastic. Her clothes are clean, a long skirt and peasant blouse, brightly colored. The sandals she wears look good on her, but are at least five years out of fashion. She doesn’t mind, at least she has shoes on her feet. Her toenails are carefully painted to match her clothes. A small luxury in in otherwise difficult life.

She smiles at her son as we ride together toward the hospital. He is in tough shape but smiles back. If anybody needed medical care, it is him.

She gives me two cards. I callously refer to them as “The Key to the Kingdom,” sometimes. The cards represent free health care for the poor. A lot of people abuse the system, our medicare budget takes up a third of the State of Rhode Island’s revenue.

I copy the information on the state report, occasionally looking at the kids.

I can’t help but be proud of my standing as an American citizen, able and willing to help those so desperately in need. If the tables were turned, and I was born in Mexico and impoverished, I hope I would have the courage to brave it all and make the journey to where a better life existed for my family, laws be damned.

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