“I will remember that there is an art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug,” says the Hippocratic oath.
And Dairon Elisondo Rojas has not forgotten that promise that all doctors make when they receive their degree and license to prevent, cure and save lives.
A 28-year-old native of Cuba, Dr. Elisondo Rojas is the only doctor in the makeshift immigrant camp under the bridge connecting Matamoros, Mexico, to the United States.
According to the New York Times, the young doctor has office hours every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and earns $30 per day in which he has treated children with diarrhea, colds, asthma, and even fractures.
He has not taken a single day off since he began working in late October at the camp where, like him, some 2,500 immigrants are waiting for their cases to go through immigration court in Brownsville, Texas.
Dr. Elisondo, like so many other medical professionals in Latin America, is trained in emergency medicine and used to working with the few resources at hand.
When he graduated from medical school in Cuba, the young doctor was working in a government clinic in Venezuela. After the crisis that destroyed the Caribbean country, and where the shortage of food and medicine reminded many of what Cuba experienced after the fall of the Soviet Union, Elisondo Rojas was called back to the island “after he became a vocal critic of the government of Nicolás Maduro.”
The close relationship between the two governments made him a pariah in his own country, where he was banned from practicing medicine and harassed by police, he told the NYT. Like so many other immigrants who feel their lives are in danger, the doctor struggled to find the money to try to get to the United States and apply for asylum.
It took him a month traveling by plane, boat, and bus, and finally, he and his girlfriend found themselves stuck on the border with Mexico thanks to the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, where asylum seekers must remain on Mexican soil while waiting for their court appearances.
Following the opening of a makeshift clinic by Global Response Management, Dr. Elisondo saw that his waiting time could also be useful.
Today he sees about 50 patients a day, some with serious illnesses, epilepsy, appendicitis, and even heart attacks. However, many of the cases include respiratory infections and pneumonia, medical conditions that have claimed the lives of several immigrants in custody in the United States.
According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), many of the deaths in immigration detention facilities are due to “violations of medical standards.” This was confirmed by a whistleblower report provided to BuzzFeed that alleges U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has “systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care” to detained migrants.
That is why the work of doctors like Dr. Elisondo Rojas not only helps with the quality of life of immigrants determined to wait their turn for an opportunity in the United States but could prevent tragedies at the hands of government agencies now recognized for their negligence.