Francisco Cortez is 43 years old and needs to have dialysis done twice a week; otherwise he may have complications and he could die if he does not receive the proper medical treatment.
The problem is that he was deported from Pasadena to Tijuana after living in the United States for over 20 years. He does not have a criminal record, always paid his taxes on time, has a wife and three American children, and owns his own business.
Cortez is part of that generation of immigrants that grew up with really low means in his native country Oaxaca, México and started working his way up at a very young age. Once in the U.S., he mastered his skills as an electrician and plumber and combined that with his high work ethic. He now has a long list of clients.
Probably one of his secrets is that he does not mind working weekends and holidays. He feels good and his pride comes from the satisfaction of having any particular job. "A qué venimos, a trabajar no?" Sometimes his friends criticized him because he seemed not to know how to enjoy life, but just work.
It may be cultural, but some people tend to put work before their health. Unfortunately, by the time they decide to go to the doctor, it is too late.
This is Francisco's case. When he went to get a physical exam, he had already developed diabetes. Several years later, the doctor told him that he needed to have dialysis twice a week to be able to survive or else he would have to have a kidney transplant. His life changed drastically because after his first dialysis in September of 2011, he was forced to take days off, especially on the days he had dialysis done.
His situation got complicated last week when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents came to his door, looking for someone else. When they discovered he had a deportation order, they took him and in seven hours, he was already in Tijuana.
The deportation order was issued in 1996 when Francisco tried to fix his legal status, but the attorney he hired for assistance just took his money (approximately $7,500) and never helped him through the political asylum (a program most Mexicans do not qualify for) as he promised.
The day of the arrest, his dreams of becoming an American citizen went to the trash. His clean record and the fact that he was the main provider for his family did not make a difference. Francisco's high work ethic to provide service at any time to many American individuals and companies did not matter either. The fact that his life is at risk because he could die if he does not get dialysis done wasn't sufficient enough to let him stay, so the ICE agents took him.
Francisco has given his best years to this country, 20 years to be exact, without asking for anything in return because he has never received welfare. But now, he needs to take care of his health and what do we do? We deport him to Tijuana, with only $10.00 dollars -- money the officers asked his wife for -- but nothing else.
I went to Tijuana this weekend and I had the opportunity to see him. He is a quiet but strong man and is eager to find work. Knowing his family depends on him is what keeps him going. He is motivated and ready to start working.
Despite having tubes in his chest and arm for the dialysis, the first thing he told me was that he hasn't been able to find a job. He was more worried about finding a job than his own health. After almost 10 days without having dialysis, he found a hospital where they charged him $70 U.S. dollars to have the procedure done only once a week, not the two sessions his doctor recommended back in Pasadena.
I was amazed to see the level of strength he still has to continue going forward in life. In a city he doesn't know, he is determined to find a job and does not think about himself, but of his family.
I've been asking people what they would do if they would be in Francisco's shoes and most of them can't even imagine being away from their kids. Forget about having a life threatening illness, being without a job or money in a city where they don't know anyone and having the uncertainty of ever seeing their family again.
In the meantime, his wife is working with an attorney in Los Angeles, hoping this time the court reconsiders his case and allows him to come back to the U.S. to continue his medical treatment and continue working.
I just hope Francisco is allowed to come back to the U.S., not just because of his health, but for his family and because it is the right thing to do as an American. This country needs more people like Francisco with his strong work ethic and for sure he deserves to be here more than a handful of people I know who were born in this great country.