By Jeff Ni
“A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.” ― Ronald Reagan
Today, immigration is a multifaceted topic, and oftentimes, the political narrative surrounding immigration is rife with dread. Much of the conversation is driven by fear, not of the Mexican, but of the even more terrifying unknown. I would venture that few people who have an “informed” opinion on border policy have sacrificed the time to genuinely hear the situation of the migrant. Even fewer have probably visited the border itself.
As a medical student at a pioneer institution for the acceptance of DACA students, I recognized my own ignorance on immigration, and I decided to participate in a summer trip to Tucson to learn from an outstanding educational organization called Borderlinks. My trip was brief but sufficient for me to realize that the situation was dire, and that our country, sadly and profoundly, had lost control…
Many hopeful migrants do not make it to our border. “To walk a mile in her shoes” is an old adage, one which I played out literally. I was given the opportunity to walk through the scorching desert, and to witness the items left behind. A pair of heels. A bible. A baby’s bottle. Powerful items which told a story of hope and desperation. Hundreds of these stories have been extinguished from dehydration, hyperthermia and other preventable causes. During a vigil in Douglas, we lined wooden crosses on the side of a major street, each bearing a name and remembering a death. The street ended before the crosses did, some hauntingly marked “No Identificado”.
To cross the border does not guarantee the tantalizing American dream. Undocumented immigrants are paid poorly, subjected to discrimination, and disqualified from insurance. Many are placed in detention centers, and live in perpetual fear of being deported. A young man, detained for crossing, was fleeing his hometown due to persecution. He told me in Spanish, sadly blinking back tears: “I had a vision that America would be more accepting. The only thing I’ve known since arriving is this prison cell.”
These narratives cannot arrive at a more apt period, when hateful speech dominates the election. Donald Trump, a presumptive Republican candidate, has exacerbated these ideals. He claims that Mexico is bringing drugs. Perhaps he does not know that many smugglers are forced to carry hauls by the cartels, lest their families be targeted. He claims that Mexico is bringing rapists. Perhaps he is unaware that the majority of women crossing are raped along the way, their undergarments hung to display on “trophy trees”. Trump claims that Mexico is not “sending their best. They’re not sending you.” Trump may not realize that many immigrants are fundamentally no different from us. They are our peers, our neighbors, and our fellow human beings. They are willing to leave their homes, trek a treacherous desert, and endanger their lives to pursue a promising life for their families. If we follow Trump’s rhetoric, are we worthy of such expectations?
I fully realize that much of my experience has been influenced by emotion. The culture of xenophobia and the current immigration policy is also undoubtedly biased by emotion. We are creatures of emotion, and as physicians, emotions can influence our standard of care. Just as the model doctor strives to be empathetic and understanding, the unreflective one lets fear and discrimination seep in and stifle his or her ability to provide holistic medical care. In an era where these reactions are promoted by media and political leaders, it is not unusual for them to be deeply rooted. One must recognize these emotions, forgive oneself for having them, and then be willing empathize with the immigrant’s plight. It is challenging and draining. I believe that only then may we be able to offer a supporting environment to undocumented immigrant patients. Indeed, as medical professionals, it is the least we can, and should, do.
Jeff Ni is a second-year student at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine