Every one of us here today is united in our love of this country.

I am the granddaughter of immigrants. I am also pastor and a nurse, and I am dedicated to the care of the poor, no matter who they are. I was asked to speak to you today about the healthcare concerns of immigrants. I run free clinics in Allison Hill, so I know that the immigration system we have today does not work and hurts all of us.

There are significant public health issues. Early diagnosis and treatment of a problem is so much cheaper in every way than later. Delays in seeking medical attention result in worsened conditions. The lack of preventative care and aftercare cause a repeated cycle of use of hospital emergency rooms and emergency hospitalizations. Some of the common things we see are:

• women with delayed or no prenatal care because they cannot afford it.

• people with aggravated conditions like simple ear infections that become perforated ear drums, colds that become pneumonia, early and treatable cancers that become advanced and incurable.

• people with untreated, or poorly self-treated injuries, leading to lasting damage.

• people with chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease who develop avoidable complications of their diseases like blindness, amputation and stroke

Our current policy benefits the criminal element among us.

• One of the consequences of having a people who are forced to live secretly is that it makes an immigrant fearful of reporting when they are the victim of a crime. I have had clients come in with a broken hand or lacerated scalp, victim of assault and robbery.

• Immigrants are also fearful to report when they have been a witness to a crime.

Immigrants get abused by unethical employers.

• I saw one man who had gotten off the bus in Harrisburg, in great pain, in search of a refill for an eye medicine. The empty bottle was labeled as a prescription strength cortisone, with no pharmacy or physician identifiers. He explained that he had been picking tobacco in Connecticut, while the employer was spraying the field. He was apologetic that he had forgotten and rubbed his eye, getting the chemical in his eye. Rather than getting professional treatment, the employer had given him the bottle of medicine and a bus ticket to Washington, D.C. His eye was permanently damaged.

• I have seen people with terrible fungal infections on their feet because they were forced to wear employer-supplied, wet contaminated rubber boots for their work shift

Illegal entry is fraught with danger.

• I’ll never forget the man who came saying he had diabetes, and had been riding trains for 36 hours without food or medicine. He was asking for insulin. When I asked about his wrapped and deformed hand, he told me it had been caught between two cars during coupling. A roofer, he was hoping against hope that it would eventually heal –but of course the hand was ruined for life.

Our current policies violate our own beliefs and values.

• The way things are now is unjust and violates our belief in equal rights for all people

• The way things are now is unholy because it inflicts human suffering on a vulnerable people

• The way things are now is ungrateful because it ignores the many benefits immigrants provide

However or whenever they arrived in this country, immigrants are people with whom we live every day. They are our neighbors in every way. They work here, have families here, help their children with their homework, go to church, make and spend money, worry about their parents: citizens in all but a legal sense. Immigrants increase and ensure a higher quality of life for others at the expense of their own lives and families.

As a woman of medicine and religion, I urge our lawmakers that immigration reform is necessary –intelligent reform that deals fairly with those who are here, while maintaining national safety and humane, controlled access to the opportunities this country provides.

-Jody Silliker is the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church at 124 South 13th St. in Harrisburg, and coordinator of Medical Outreach Services for Holy Spirit Hospital. Sunday Worship is at 10:30 AM. Professional nurses are available Monday through Friday; Doctors and dentists available 2 Fridays a month. Food vouchers, baby furniture, durable medical goods, ESL classes and Early Childhood Enrichment classes are also offered. All services are free of charge. Call 763-2507 or 260-9320 for more information.

Jody Silliker