Asylum seekers trying to enter the U.S. must prove that they're fleeing legitimate threatening situations. But gathering enough evidence to prove that they've been harmed can prove challenging.
To respond to this challenge, five doctors created the Human Rights Clinic in October 2018 at Denver Health, which offers free physical and mental health evaluations for asylum seekers in Colorado and nearby states. Medical affidavits based on these evaluations are submitted to immigration courts and can greatly bolster an asylum seeker's story.
"We see that for our clients, these evaluations can often mean the difference between winning and losing a case," says Mekela Goehring, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network.
The five doctors who make up the Human Rights Clinic team volunteer at the clinic and specialize in pediatrics, internal medicine, infectious diseases, clinical psychology and gynecology. They look for signs of torture, gunshot wounds, evidence of sexual abuse, and any mental health symptoms associated with these types of traumas, like PTSD, anxiety and depression. Twenty individuals have been evaluated so far.
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Dr. Janine Young, a co-director of the clinic who has worked with immigrants and refugees as a pediatrician for two decades, specializes in identifying signs of female genital mutilation on children. "This is not for the faint of heart; it's intense. But again, not doing this means it's more likely that patients will be deported back to these situations where they face very uncertain odds of continued torture and death," says Young.
The Human Rights Clinic covers its administrative costs through funding from the Rose Community Foundation, the Gogel Family Foundation, the Caring for Colorado Foundation and the Denver Health Foundation. Denver Health provides the space and free language interpretation services. The five Denver Health doctors also perform on-site evaluations at the immigration detention facility in Aurora.
And Young feels that it's her duty to offer these types of services.
"Our federal laws support the right to legal status for immigrants who have been persecuted in their home country based on race, ethnicity, gender, political beliefs or sexual orientation," she says. "My family and most people I know are descendants of immigrants, and many were afforded these protections. Many of the patients I’m taking care of have a legal right to these protections as well."