A Cuban Doctor Was Stuck In Mexico Awaiting For Asylum So He Became The Border Camp’s Only Doctor
Most stories coming from the US-Mexico border involve tragedy. Whether it be the separation of families by the Trump Administration, the drowning of migrants trying to cross the Rio Grande, or the tens of thousands of asylum seekers missing appointments because of cruel Border Patrol agents, we’re all too often inundated with tragedy.
One man, a migrant, himself is working hard along the border to help those just like him – while he himself is facing an uncertain future.
Twenty-eight-year-old Dairon Elisondo Rojas has been treating patients who live in the same teeming migrant camp that he calls home.
Dr Elisondo is a native of Cuba and he has become the only full-time doctor in a sprawling tent city that has grown at the base of a bridge that connects the Mexican city of Matamoros to the United States. More than 2,500 migrants call the camp home as they wait for their asylum cases to wind their way through immigration court in Brownsville, Texas.
In a story by the New York Times, he noted that he often treats children with diarrhea, colds and asthma, among other ailments. Some he examined, treated and sent on their way with cough or cold medicine. For those who required special care, like a boy with a broken leg, Dr Elisondo arranged a transfer to the local Mexican hospital.
He works every day and holds office hours from 10am to 4pm but is often on-call as the tent city’s only medical official. For his services, he earns about $30 USD per day. He told the New York Times:
“This is perfect, perfect,” Dr Elisondo said in Spanish about the arrangement. “It’s what I know. It’s what I do best.”
So perfect he has not taken a day off since starting work in late October.
Just like the hundreds of migrants he treats, Dr. Elisondo himself is a resident at the tent city as he awaits his asylum case in the United States.
Like the migrants under his care, the doctor is stranded in Mexico by the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which asylum-seekers who show up at the border are only allowed to enter the United States for court appearances. He could be stuck in Matamoros for several more months, waiting for an answer on his immigration case.
Dr Elisondo, who has a speciality in critical care, has experience working in challenging environments thanks to Cuba’s medical-training program, which dispatches newly minted doctors on missions to impoverished allied countries.
After medical school, Dr Elisondo was posted for nearly three years to a government clinic in Venezuela. With that country’s economy reeling, he witnessed close-up the suffering wrought by a shortage of medicine and food. He was recalled home after he became a vocal critic of the government of Nicolás Maduro.
“The government brought me back to Cuba, and that had consequences,” he said.
In his home country, he said, he was barred from practicing medicine and harassed by police. Feeling persecuted and endangered, he and his girlfriend scrounged up enough money to pay for travel to the United States to request asylum. They journeyed more than a month by plane, boat and bus until they reached the southwestern border in mid-August.
For decades, Cuban refugees had special access to the US asylum system but that all changed under the Obama Administration.
While Cubans for decades were allowed under a special policy to remain in the United States if they were able to make it there by land or sea, that welcome ended in the final days of the Obama administration. Cubans, who once may have travelled to Florida, now are subject to the same stringent immigration policies applied to other asylum-seekers on the southwestern border.
Being stuck in Mexico and needing income, Dr Elisondo sought work.
He had already found work in a plant that manufactures cosmetics cases but one day, as he passed the ever-growing migrant camp near the international bridge, he spotted a big banner tied to a fence inscribed with the words “Medical” and “Médico.” Several migrants were talking to a person with a stethoscope dangling from her neck. It was a pop-up clinic opened in October by Global Response Management, an international nonprofit organization whose volunteer doctors, nurses and medics have been deployed to places such as Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
On a typical day, Dr Elisondo and a rotating roster of US volunteer health workers see about 50 patients.
In addition to the camp’s residents, they serve another 1,000 migrants living elsewhere in Matamoros.
Exposure to the elements, overcrowding and lack of sanitation — there are few showers and the portable latrines are foul — have created conditions for illness to spread in the sprawling camp. Yet many migrants fear venturing far outside the camp, even to seek medical care, because so many people have been victims of crime.
Dr Elisondo has stabilised people who had epileptic seizures, appendicitis and heart attacks. But patients with upper-respiratory-tract infections, pneumonia and skin conditions such as scabies represent the largest share of his caseload.