Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mr. President: are foreign-born doctors and sick children “bad people”?

President Trump argues through his Twitter posts that his administration’s travel ban on immigrants and refugees from 7 majority-Muslim countries, currently on hold because of court rulings against it, is about keeping “bad people” out of the country.  Commenting on the initial ruling by a federal judge suspending the ban, which was then upheld by a 10-1 ruling by a federal appeals court, President Trump tweeted: 

“The judge opens up our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart. Bad people are very happy!” 

“Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country. A terrible decision.”

“What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?”

Rather than continuing to fight it out in court, though, the administration has announced that it will issue a revised executive order this week, one that it believes will pass muster with the courts. We will see what the new order says and if the courts agree.

From the standpoint of what’s best for health care, though, ACP believes that it is essential that the revised order discontinue the policy of discriminating against foreign-born physicians and medical students, especially Muslims, from the 7 designated countries, and thousands of refugees from them seeking shelter in the United States.

The fact is that rather than keeping out “bad people” who want to do us harm, President Trump’s executive order denied travel to many physicians who live in the United States with valid visas, physicians who provide care to hundreds of thousands of patients.  Among them are:

Dr. Chalak Berzing, an Iraqi Muslim immigrant physician/cardiologist who has won the trust of an overwhelmingly conservative, working class town in Appalachia. President Trump, is Dr. Berzingi among the “bad people” you want to keep out?

Dr. M. Ihsan Kaadan, a Syrian doctor who treated patients suffering from the horrors inflicted on the civilians of Aleppo, Syria; he later was granted a visa to enter the United States to continue his studies at Brandeis and his internal medicine residency training at Massachusetts General.  “In hopes that leaders and politicians around the world reconsider any plans to ban refugees who seek to escape brutal wars and other human tragedies” Dr. Kaadan recently wrote of his experiences:

“I am a Muslim and I am from Syria, I came here fleeing a brutal war that has killed more than 400,000 men, women, and children. I have the features that make me look like what some people think of as terrorist. But I am not a terrorist. In fact, I’m the opposite — I am a patriot for America and for Syria. I want to serve the country that opened its doors to me and also help my home country.” 

President Trump, Is Dr. Kaadan among the “bad people” you want to keep out?

Drs. Kaadan and Berzing are hardly alone.  There are 15,000 physicians from across the United States that are from the 7 countries subject to the travel ban, many of whom are providing care to Americans in underserved communities.  Even if the executive order would allow them to remain in the U.S. as long as they had valid visas, the travel ban placed them at risk of not being able to reenter the U.S. if they traveled home to see their families—say to see an ailing aged parent. In fact, there were at least three physicians in U.S. internal medicine residency programs, ACP members, who were traveling abroad at the time the executive order was issued and were turned away from re-entering the United States. And, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there are currently 260 applicants from the affected countries among the 35,000 people seeking residency and fellowship positions in this country. 

President Trump, are these 15,000 physicians seeking to train in the U.S. and provide care to the most underserved Americans among the “bad people” you want to keep out?

Let’s also not forget the sick refugee kids and their families, already vetted and approved for visas, who were denied entry to U.S. borders, including tens of thousands of Syrian children and their families seeking shelter from horrible violence, deprivation and death, and babies like this four-month-old Iranian child in urgent need of brain surgery who was turned away when the executive order went into effect. 

President Trump, are these children among the “bad people” you want to keep out?

The American College of Physicians has taken a firm stance against discrimination in immigration policy based on religion and in strong opposition to the President’s executive order, and in support of comprehensive policies to reform immigration laws and policies to allow physicians and medical students with approved visas to travel freely to and from the United States, to protect “Dreamers” from deportation, and to expand the number of refugees accepted into the United States, particularly those with urgent medical needs. We have also joined with 11 other internal medicine membership organizations to urge the Department of Homeland Security to immediately implement changes to lift restrictions on travel for physicians and medical students with approved visas and to prioritize admitting refugees who need medical care.

The Trump administration still has a chance to get things right this time in its revised executive order, by lifting discriminatory travel restrictions on Muslim physicians and medical students and refugees who have been thoroughly vetted and approved for visas to travel to and from the United States.  Let’s hope it does, because maintaining the current policy in some other form is bad for health care, bad for medical education, and bad for the millions of patients who get their care from foreign-born physicians—and for many refugees, it’s a matter of life and death. 

Today's question: What do you think of President Trump's travel and immigration ban and ACP's advocacy to overturn it?