A story of child immigration
During my advocacy internship as a pediatric intern, I spent time with lawyer Alice Rosenthal Esq., The senior counsel for the Center for Children’s Advocacy and the coordinator of the forensic partnership program at the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. One afternoon we spent several hours with a father and son who had immigrated from a Caribbean island a few years earlier. The son had a very complex psychosocial and medical history. Sadly, his childhood was filled with tragedies. In his home country, the son’s mother had subjected him to physical and psychological abuse.
A few years after moving to the United States with his father and siblings, the son was diagnosed with leukemia. Fortunately, he is doing well now, but he often does not respect his medication and misses various medical appointments. He was also diagnosed with a complex psychiatric illness, but he stopped his psychiatric medication because he insisted that he “felt better” and that he also did not show up for these appointments.
In addition to his complex medical diagnoses, the patient had recently become involved in group violence. His father shared in tears that he feared for his son’s life and that of his other children. Members of the community had been shot dead. Overwhelmed by fear, despair and loss of control, the father was about to ask his son to leave the house.
It was all just the surface of many years of hardship for this young man and his family.
This is an extremely complex case with many layers to dissect. The story of this family sheds light on the reality of many young immigrants to the United States and further validates my own experience growing up as the daughter of Egyptian immigrant parents. Since my childhood, I have been extremely involved in my Coptic Orthodox Christian church community, most of which were Egyptian immigrant families struggling to find their place in the “land of endless opportunity”, in the hope of achieving the American dream”. Others were immigrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Syria. I quickly learned that most families in my religious community faced endless adversities, and that young people, in particular, faced unique and difficult challenges.
Youth is a period of establishing self-identity, values and opinions. It’s a time of self-discovery and building meaningful relationships. This is also the time to seek a sense of belonging while fighting against insecurities. In my ecclesial community, I have witnessed various young people disconnected from their homeland and isolated in their new country, deeply seeking a feeling of acceptance. Many feel lonely and lost in the face of depression, anxiety, and various other mental health issues.
Sadly, the son we met not only had a volatile home in his home country, but like so many other young immigrants, he also struggled to find a sense of “home” here in Connecticut. Perhaps his thirst for belonging was a factor that led him to seek out a group that would accept him, even involved in violence. Immigrant families often live in unsafe neighborhoods, as these are the most affordable places, and experience other social stressors such as a poor education system and lack of economic opportunities. Many young immigrants struggle to learn English, do well in school, make friends, and work to help support their families, all at the same time.
Upon meeting this father and his son, the father shared in tears: “Maybe if I send him back to our home country, he will realize what a great life he has here.”
The reality is that the son’s life here is full of New obstacles – not necessarily less obstacles than before. It is often that the struggles which one can try to escape in one’s homeland only come up against more extensive ones, however. different, challenges. This young man’s past has been marked by isolation, group violence, drug addiction and dropping out of high school.
As pediatricians working with diverse immigrant populations, it is essential to recognize the challenges that immigrant youth face. Medico-legal partnerships are uniquely positioned to help immigrant families meet the challenges of safe and stable housing, education, and access to medical care. This partnership recognizes how social stressors must be addressed in order for families to lead healthier and happier lives.
We as pediatricians are called to recognize and empathize with the past experiences of immigrant families as they attempt to create a new home in a foreign place. The young men and women who sit on our examination tables may be physically present, but emotionally lost somewhere in the midst of their troubled past and painful present.
Demiana Joy Azmy, MD, is a first year pediatric resident at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. She grew up in Connecticut, but spent 8 years in Albany, NY to complete the Siena College-Albany Medical College Science and Humanities program, a joint acceptance program focused on ethics and service. She received her BA in Biology and a Minor in Creative Arts from Siena College, followed by her MD from Albany Medical College. Outside of medicine, she enjoys painting, crafts, traveling, playing basketball and volleyball, and spending time with loved ones.