Rosa Parks was well respected in Montgomery’s segregated world of black and white. Nearly fifty-five years ago today she chose to represent those who faced the daily indignities of being treated as a second class citizen by refusing to give her bus seat up to a white passenger. To be clear, the struggle to secure full civil and human rights continues to exist today.
Discrimination continues to deny many equal access to employment, housing, education, and health care—opportunities no person should be unfairly denied. It is clear that what made a defiant Rosa Parks successful was a movement which had come to realize that no one, from the most powerful clergy to the lowliest sharecropper, could be left behind.
Immigrants fighting for human dignity reached a similar understanding on November 23, 2009. Led by The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), immigrant communities came together in San Francisco and Washington D.C. to expose the unequal treatment of immigrants in proposed federal health reform bills. Leading up to November 23, over 6,000 petitions were signed in support.
Rather than a distraction, the Rosa Parks struggle against segregation in Montgomery, Alabama was a crucial stepping stone in securing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Immigration Reform Act of 1965. These distinct laws form the pillars of modern civil rights – each one crucial in its own right.
The fight to ensure the inclusion of immigrants in health care reform should be seen in the same light. It is one photo in the larger collage that is immigrant rights. Simply put, immigration reform won’t help immigrants see a doctor when they are sick.
Already legal immigrants face a five-year waiting period to apply for Medicaid. The proposed Senate bill irrationally denies undocumented immigrants from purchasing insurance at full cost (without subsidies) with their own money through the newly created exchanges.
If this doesn’t make sense, it’s because bigotry never does. Excluding documented and undocumented immigrants from health care reform ends up costing the system more money. Preventive care – rather than expensive trips to the emergency room – would save taxpayers’ money in the long run, despite the ill wishes of anti-immigrant zealots.
In the days to come we would do well to heed the lesson taught to us by Mrs. Parks and those she symbolized. The time has come to confront the racism and insert some common humanity back into health reform.