Physicians in Calif., N.Y. Helping Undocumented Kids Seek Asylum
Medical-legal partnerships are forming in California and New York to help undocumented children prove that they qualify for asylum in the U.S., Kaiser Health News reports.
According to KHN, to qualify for asylum, immigrants must prove that they face persecution in the country they are from based on:
- Membership in a social group;
- Political opinions;
- Race; or
- Religion (Gold, Kaiser Health News, 12/9).
About 1,532 unaccompanied adolescents applied for asylum in the U.S. from October 2013 to June of this year. Of those, 167 cases were adjudicated and 108 were granted asylum (Wasem, Congressional Research Office report, 7/30).
Meanwhile, 1,252 unaccompanied children were ordered to be deported from July 18 to Oct. 7 of this year, according to the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review. However, many of those deportation orders were appealed, according to KHN.
Need for Medical-Legal Partnerships
Brett Stark, an attorney in New York, said it can be very difficult to prove that undocumented children qualify for asylum under the law. Doctors' testimonies can corroborate lawyers' arguments, he noted.
Stark said, "I could say to the judge, 'Your honor, this child is fleeing gangs in his home country and because of that, he's eligible for asylum. But what's more powerful and has more impact is to say, 'Here's a letter [from a doctor] where he reports this child has a bullet lodged in his spine."
Meanwhile, Alan Shapiro, senior medical director of the South Bronx Health Center, said unaccompanied children often are in need of medical care for conditions, such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Details of Efforts in Calif.
About 2,474 unaccompanied adolescents entered Los Angeles between January and September.
Psychologists at St. John's Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles have begun:
- Assisting children in testifying and preparing for trial; and
- Providing psychological evaluations of such children for attorneys to use during immigration hearings.
The center treated three times as many undocumented children this fall compared with the same time last year, according to KHN.
Elena Fernandez, behavioral health director at St. John's, said, "It's the clinician who has to determine whether the child is ready to testify and disclose in a hearing the level of trauma," adding, "[Y]ou run the risk of them re-experiencing that trauma in a courtroom."
St. John's CEO Jim Mangia said the clinic provided about $250,000 in pro bono care to undocumented children over a three-month period.
Some observers have voiced concerns about undocumented children being granted asylum when they do not qualify under the law.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said, "What I fear is that [doctors'] testimony will be designed to elicit sympathy so that immigration authorities grant a green card whether or not it's warranted under the law," adding, "Even the majority of those who do get asylum really don't warrant it" (Kaiser Health News, 12/9).
Meanwhile, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) in July sent a letter to CDC detailing concerns related to "reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly disease such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis" (Gingrey letter, 7/7).
However, Shapiro said treatment for unaccompanied minors usually involves physician or psychological scarring related to violence, rather than infectious diseases (Kaiser Health News, 12/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.