Mexican Doctors Coming to California to Help Farm Worker Communities
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Arnoldo Torres has worked hard for nearly 20 years to get doctors from Mexico to rural farmworker areas of California. Torres wrote the bill in 2000, which former California Governor Gray Davis signed in 2002. But no medical schools wanted to do the orientation program for the doctors in Mexico.
“The medical schools avoided the program, but we found other ways to do what we need to get done and should have 29 doctors coming in October,” said Torres a journalist, consultant, partner in the Sacramento, California based public policy consulting firm Torres & Torres, and the executive director for the California Hispanic Health Care Association.
“We have funding on both sides of the border from private foundations, that will not be public funding,” noted Torres.
This all came about after Torres met with the president of the Mexican Foundation who happened to know the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Torres requested that the Mexican Ambassador seek approval for the Visas of the 29 doctors.
The problem is that California, as well as the United States since the 1970s when this data was collected, has had significant doctor shortages primarily in rural and farmworker communities.
“The problem is even worse today than it was even ten years ago. California produces 700 doctors a year. Close to 600 doctors practice in California, but they do not practice in the areas where they’re the most needed,” Torres said. “And so this program is designed to be a pilot to garner enough experience to decide whether this program should be expanded, and we ought to be bringing in more doctors.”
“The whole idea is that this is only a pilot program. We’ve never wanted this program to be permanent because California should be developing the doctors who have cultural, linguistic competency, said Torres. “When we did this bill in 2000, the largest population of non-English speakers were from Latin America, primarily Mexico. But California’s diversity has grown significantly since then. Rural and farmworker areas are still the most difficult to serve. The state now has much more diversity with languages and cultures, and the doctors in the California medical school system are not being educated on culture and language, and so, therefore, it’s tough for them to serve these communities,” he said.
This speaks to Trump’s recent decision on legal immigration. The reality is that many undocumented people, as well as legal residents, work in agriculture. “They work full time in most cases. And despite the increase in salaries that many in agriculture have extended to the farmworker population, illegal and undocumented, the reality is that it’s not a year-round job in most cases, it’s seasonal,” said Torres. “There are so many months out of the year in which they’re going to work, and they’re never going to earn enough money to be able to pay for insurance.”
What I think Trump is doing flies in the face of the argument that this population comes in to take benefits from the public. “They work. They do invaluable work. Growers are providing greater care. They are providing much better benefits, but they can only do it for so long in a year. And then you have a terrible economic policy with this president. You don’t have enough labor. He doesn’t want to bring any labor to work in these areas. The reality is that our bill underscores so many of the things that so many people get wrong about immigration,” explained Torres.
Torres noted that the Mexican doctors would come in only for three years and then they would have to return. Their visas would be for only three years. “The clinics where the doctors will work will have to pay them all of the salaries. This is in the law that we wrote. They have to pay them the salaries and the fringe benefits that they pay their current doctors, but they can only work for three years,” noted Torres.
“We are seeking are only three-year visas, and we have made an agreement with Mexico that we would only borrow them for three years. The idea is that we don’t want to be taking doctors from Mexico on a permanent basis. That is the responsibility that California has, as well as this country has, to develop enough doctors to work in the areas where they’re needed the most,” said Torres. “But Mexico has agreed to lend them to us. Because going back, they’re going to be even better doctors than they were before they came.”
And they’re all going to be very fluent in English as well. So they’re going to be serving all patients that come in for care, not just the Mexican workers.