The family of Julio Cano was making plans Friday to send their son’s body to Mexico for burial and seeking to cope with their loss just days after being thrust into the center of Proposition 187’s political storm.
“What is important right now are our personal problems, to get our son’s body to Acapulco,” said the 12-year-old’s father.
The boy’s parents, who are illegal immigrants, say they delayed getting care for their ill son for several days last week because they feared their status would be questioned. A day after he was finally examined by a doctor, his condition suddenly deteriorated and he died.
The parents said Friday the political attention their son’s death is receiving is important because it highlights the misinformation among many immigrants about Proposition 187, which would cut off government services and all but emergency medical care for illegal immigrants.
“I think that there is a lot of fear, that the law is not that clear,” the boy’s mother said. “I don’t want what happened to us to happen to more families. I want people who approved this law, who created it, to think very closely about it. It has hurt us very much and can hurt others as well. Before applying this law, please, think about it well.”
Julio died Nov. 19 and preliminary autopsy results indicate he had acute leukemia and a secondary infection.
Although medical experts say acute leukemia often can be successfully treated, it remains unclear whether earlier medical intervention would have helped.
Proposition 187 supporters say the family’s tragedy is being manipulated for political gain. Some said responsibility for the boy’s death lies with the parents, for bringing him to this country illegally in the first place.
“It still goes back to parental responsibility,” said Ron Prince, who co-chaired the group that proposed the new law, which is on hold because of legal challenges. “When people come here illegally, they place those children at risk. And, if they are bringing children here, they should provide for them or be capable of doing so.”
Proposition 187 opponents have pointed to Julio’s death as a sign of casualties to come if the measure is implemented, and an indication that efforts to urge the illegal immigrant community to continue seeking care for now have fallen short.
“If only we and others had been more effective in getting the word out about the fact that a temporary restraining order had been issued, this wouldn’t have happened,” said Peter Schey, head of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles and the attorney who filed suit against the measure in federal court.
“I think there are hundreds of other cases out there like this on the verge of happening. There are certainly tens of thousands of people in the community who don’t know that there’s a temporary restraining order enjoining 187.”
Julio’s family has received an outpouring of support from firefighters, church members and school officials, who are collecting donations on the family’s behalf.
Visitation for the Sycamore Junior High School seventh-grader will take place Monday from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Hilgenfeld Mortuary in Anaheim, and his body will then be transported to the airport for an early Tuesday flight to Mexico, his father said.
The father said that the Anaheim Firefighters Assn. has agreed to pay half of the estimated $3,000 it will cost to fly the boy’s body home to Acapulco, where his grandparents will arrange for burial.
“We want to say to all the people who have helped us that it is noble what they are doing,” the father said. “We want to thank everyone who has helped us in this. It’s a help that we really did need.”
Julio had been ill since Nov. 14, but his parents said they were afraid to take him to a hospital because they had been denied non-emergency care before and thought that, with the passage of Proposition 187, their legal status would be questioned.
On Nov. 18, the parents said they took the boy to a private doctor after gathering $60 to pay for the visit. Julio died the next day.
The father said he didn’t think his son’s condition would have been considered an emergency by hospital staff because he did not appear to be gravely ill, but “one day he was walking and the next day he was dead.”
The family has spoken to attorneys for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has filed a lawsuit challenging the measure. While the father said he made “no concrete plans” with MALDEF, an Orange County spokesman for the organization said earlier this week that the family’s declarations will be added to the amended lawsuit.
The father said Friday that he hopes the family’s tragedy will help inform other undocumented immigrants that they can still seek care at a publicly funded hospital or community clinic.
“The public has to know what measures have been taken--to understand, to realize that problems like this can escalate,” he said.
The family will not be accompanying the body to Mexico Tuesday, he said, because he does not want to lose his job or take his other children out of school.
“We want to go, but it’s not possible. The body will go alone,” he said.
While he thanked members of the Latino community for support in recent days, the father said he and his family have received a handful of hostile calls.
“They were saying that, if we didn’t want this to happen, why don’t we leave,” he said. “These are people without scruples or feelings.”
Times Staff Writer Martin Miller contributed to this report.