On the 15-mile drive between his two Central Valley medical clinics, Dr. J. Luis Bautista often passes armies of farmworkers stooped over in the fields, picking onions, melons and tomatoes. Most of the 30,000 annual office visits to his small staff of doctors and nurses in downtown Fresno and the nearby rural town of Sanger are by these farmworkers. Many of them are undocumented.
The 64-year-old physician has personal insight into the struggles of these laborers: He was once one of them. As a boy, he picked fruit alongside his parents and nine siblings in Ventura County. The family made $4,000 a year back then, a little over $30,000 in today’s dollars — rarely enough to spare for doctor’s visits.
“I pledged in medical school to help these people in the farm fields,” said Bautista. “I knew how it felt not to have anything, not to have the money to go to a doctor.” Now he treats them whether or not they have money — or legal documents. “We never say no to patients,” he said.