There was the human rights advocate from East Africa who was tortured.
There was the woman from the Caribbean who was in an abusive relationship, beaten within an inch of her life several times.
There was the young man from Central America, attacked with a machete when he refused to join a gang.
As the national debate rages over immigration, at one Boston clinic, there are no politics, there is only empathy.
Dr. Matthew Gartland, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Asylum Clinic, has seen the brutality inflicted on people fleeing horrors in their homelands for a better life in America.
“We’re seeing people who have experienced torture,” Gartland told me yesterday. “We’re seeing people who have experienced political violence.”
The year-old clinic gives medical evaluations to immigrants applying for asylum. There are 50 physicians, all of them volunteers, who document the physical and psychological effects of the trauma people seeking asylum suffer. Doctors examine their injuries, listen to their stories, review medical records and tell the court whether the injuries match their stories.
“We provide an objective evaluation for the court, who decides whether their claim for asylum is valid and credible,” Gartland said.
So far, the clinic has seen 38 men and women, with a third of them held in Massachusetts detention centers. They come from more than a dozen countries, mostly Central America. Seven have received asylum or “some related form of release,” Gartland said.
Gartland is a pediatrician and internist. He’s also the father of a 10-month-old son. So the heart-wrenching images of migrant children being taken from their parents and kept in detention centers hit home for him.
He’d jump at the chance to help those children himself.
“It makes me want to stand up as a father, stand up as a pediatrician, to do what’s right for this country,” he said.
Gartland is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Special Interest Group on Immigrant Health, which has been pushing to give the detained children medical care and mental health services.
“In Texas, along the border, is the first place that we want to try and get into,” Gartland said. “But certainly, if these children are being sent to our home states far away from the southern border, we’d love to see them in Massachusetts.”
Now that President Trump has signed an executive order to stop taking children from their parents, the more than 2,300 children in detention facilities need to be released and reunited with their families, Gartland said.
“We also need to identify signs of trauma,” he said. “Even the experience of being separated from their mother and father causes short-term trauma and toxic stress — and that can have profound long-term implications for a child.”
Short-term implications include behavioral disturbances, like crying out and nightmares, as well as depression and anxiety. Children could suffer long-term problems such as stunted development, diabetes, heart disease or mental health issues.
“This is irreparable harm,” Gartland said. “It’s pretty horrific.”
“There has been damage done to these 2,300 children,” he added. “If they have a safe environment going forward, if they have adequate counseling and medical care, we believe we can help mitigate some of these health effects.”