Medicine is the career path I have chosen to pursue, and I feel grateful to live in a city I adore while I work in a field I love. I have long taken for granted that I can make choices about where I want my life to go because of the freedoms I have in this country, because of my family and friends’ support, and because of the resources that are available to me. Ultimately, my access to education and my ability to speak out and hopefully foster change one day comes from feeling safe, supported and free.
Understanding how fortunate I am to live this way has been relatively recent. My first year of medical school I joined the board of a student-run clinic called the Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights (WCCHR). For the first time, I became part of the asylum process, which grants individuals the right to stay legally in the United States after fleeing persecution in their home countries. Within months of starting medical school, I was able to observe forensic medical evaluations conducted by seasoned clinicians and wrote the primary draft of affidavits that were used in court to boost clients’ chances of being granted asylum. I am proud to work with other classmates, clinicians, attorneys and social workers who advocate for the rights of asylum-seekers, often devoting hours of precious free time to help individuals from different backgrounds, with different ideologies and cultures.
Having had the opportunity to assist with four evaluations, I have heard the stories of four incredible people who are mothers, fathers, human rights activists, community educators and politicians fighting for better nations for their families. Some suffered years of abuse and fear, leaving their communities only when it was absolutely necessary for their safety. Some left their young children behind, combating the sadness that they may never see them again with the hope that they would obtain the asylum status that would allow their children join them in this country.
The individuals we see at WCCHR experience persecution in their home countries for a variety of reasons, including endorsing an illegal sexual identity, being female in a society permissive of gender based violence, and involvement in activism to improve living conditions for disadvantaged populations. It is our job to objectively correlate their stories with medical, psychiatric and/or gynecological findings to provide evidence for the validity of their application for asylum. With a forensic affidavit in hand, clients’ chances of being granted asylum status are increased by 65 percent.
I have learned that by supporting asylum seekers’ applications, we are helping to prevent them from being sent home to situations that could endanger their lives and the lives of those they love. When given a second chance in a safer setting as an asylee, some continue to bravely share their stories and work in the community advocating for other asylum seekers who have lost the ability to advocate for themselves. They transform the horror they have suffered into support for others, paving the way for other asylum seekers to do the same, and strengthening the asylee community.
WCCHR is a young clinic but growing fast, and in my two years at Weill Cornell Medical College, I have been impressed with how much we’ve accomplished. We have the ability to restore hope and safety in others’ lives not only because we have compassion and drive, but also because we are free and safe to speak out against human rights violations without fear of retribution — a right that too few people have.