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Another Voice: Jacobs School initiative promotes understanding on immigration

Another Voice: Jacobs School initiative promotes understanding on immigration

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By Danielle Bernas and Kim Griswold

Immigration reform is a key issue for our electorate. Individuals and families seeking asylum have become lightning rods for this federal administration.

The documentary “Immigration Nation,” on Netflix, lays out the elements of the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement system in stark, unvarnished detail.

A particularly traumatizing executive order promulgated the separation of families at our southern border.

In Buffalo, we welcome refugees – legally resettled through the Office of Refugee Resettlement – and have long cared for people seeking asylum who are represented by a cadre of immigration attorneys.

At the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the Human Rights Initiative is a Physicians for Human Rights-affiliated, student-run clinic that serves to assist persons seeking asylum. Working with local attorneys, the HRI coordinates the provision of forensic exams with practicing clinicians in order to document the physical/psychological effects of torture people seeking asylum have witnessed or personally experienced.

Clients are often in the community, being sheltered at Jericho Road Community Health Center’s VIVE, or other local safe housing. Their exams are documented in affidavits which then become part of the attorney’s asylum case. Clinicians who perform these exams can be asked to testify in immigration court.

One unique feature of the HRI program is the relationship with the Batavia Federal Detention Facility, which allows detainees who are legally represented to be transported by ICE officers to Buffalo, where the forensic exams take place.

The HRI works in partnership with the Center for Survivors of Torture at Jewish Family Service, Journey’s End Refugee Services and UB’s Department of Family Medicine. The CST provides trauma-informed and person-centered care and treatment services to survivors of torture and trauma and their families in an effort to promote healing, recovery and empowerment. Necessary links are formed for asylum-seekers to connect with medical and psychosocial care.

The work of the HRI is important. In addition to learning about trauma-informed approaches, students practice active listening with our clients. Clinicians have the opportunity to teach and work closely with students from all four years of medical school. 

People may differ widely in their views on immigration. Gaining a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of forced migration and developing the practical skills to work effectively with this growing population is essential.

Danielle Bernas and Kim Griswold, M.D., and are part of the Human Rights Initiative at UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

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