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- Tuesday, June 01, 2010
- Written by Joseph Diaz
Imagine being one of the 8,000 children who arrive in this country each year without a parent or guardian and are placed, alone and frightened, in U.S. custody. If Joseph Diaz MD’96 MPH’09 and the NGO Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) succeed, these young victims of sex trafficking, severe abuse, or persecution will receive free medical help in addition to the pro bono legal assistance that is KIND’s raison d’etre.
Realizing that their young clients’ medical issues complicated their immigration challenges, in 2009 KIND’s directors approached Diaz, with whom they had collaborated on a 2005 medical mission to the Dominican Republic. Their goal: create a network of medical professionals to partner with KIND’s nationwide network of volunteer immigration lawyers.
“We want to find alumni across the country who’ll volunteer to provide medical expertise,” Diaz says. “Many of these KIND children are traumatized and some have health needs that have been ignored. They need medical evaluations and treatment.”
From testifying in court about the effects of trauma, abandonment, or other abuse on minors to providing psychological evaluations, the volunteer physicians would help protect the health and well being of unaccompanied children in the U.S.
Caring for the most vulnerable isn’t new for Diaz. It was working to improve conditions for low- income families in Los Angeles that led him to medicine. Today an associate professor of medicine at Alpert Medical School, he continues to focus on those in need in both his clinical and research work at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island. As co-director of the Department of Medicine’s exchange program in the Dominican Republic, he travels there several times a year. His research focuses on health care disparities among the underserved in Providence County.
“My late sister Mary [Brown ’82] was a tireless advocate for refugees and immigrants and helped foster in me a sense of social responsibility for the most vulnerable. As physicians, we all advocate for our patients. When KIND approached me...I was happy to help.”
Communications and Advocacy Director
"These children often have nothing; no money, no support and no family, yet they come to America seeking its promises of a better life."