• 9 Investigates local politicians' stance on immigration reform


    ORLANDO, Fla. - An Orange County mother said she's now a widow because her husband who was in the U.S. illegally was denied a heart transplant.

    Orlando U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson said thousands of people in his district are facing similar problems and need a path to citizenship.

    9 Investigates where local politicians stand on immigration reform.

    Jose Pena, a 37-year-old father of four, died in an Orlando hospital when he slipped into a coma and his organs failed. He needed a heart transplant, but there was a problem.

    "The doctors told me there was nothing they could do without the residency," Pena's wife said through a translator.

    Pena was an illegal immigrant from Mexico and was in the process of becoming a resident.

    He had a work visa and a Social Security number.

    His wife is undocumented, and was afraid to release her identity, but wanted to share her story.

    "I wish that when people are in my husband's situation, between life and death, that they'd get priority," she said.

    There is no federal policy on giving undocumented immigrants transplants, but patients are sometimes denied because they can't afford follow up medical care.

    "It's tragic. It's unacceptable," Grayson said.

    Grayson said there are 80,000 undocumented immigrants in his Orlando-Kissimmee district.

    He said some of them have been raped and abused, but could not get help from police because they feared deportation.

    Grayson said he supports a Senate plan that puts immigrants already in the county illegally on a 13-year path to citizenship, and blames Republicans for stalling reform.

    "Frankly, they don't want to do anything that would help Hispanics," said Grayson.

    However, Republican Rep. John Mica said that couldn't be farther from the truth.

    "My goodness, the Democrats controlled the House and Senate and the White House four previous years and they never did a thing," said Mica.

    Mica said the sticking point is rewarding people who have broken the law.

    "What kind of benefits do you extend to people who have broken the law and now seek to go to the front of the line? Most of us don't believe it's the right thing to do," he said.

    While an immigration overhaul isn't likely to happen before the end of the year, Pena's widow -- who is now single mom -- is watching the debate closely, hoping new legislation will prevent more suffering.

    "I wish they would help us. That they'd have a heart and walk in our shoes," she said.

    Eyewitness News couldn’t confirm the hospital that treated Pena due to privacy laws.

     A local transplant hospital said eligibility is based solely on a patient’s medical condition, their social support system and ability to pay for follow up care.

    As for immigration reform, the Senate has passed a bill, but the House postponed a vote.

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    9 Investigates local politicians' stance on immigration reform