There are many things that make me proud of the American College of Physicians.
ACP’s courageous leadership in standing up for those seeking to immigrate into the U.S. is one of them. Over the past nearly two years, ACP has issued a comprehensive statement on immigration policy affirming its opposition “to discrimination based on religion, race, gender or gender identity, or sexual orientation in decisions on who shall be legally admitted to the United States as a gross violation of human rights,” opposing President Trump’s original executive order barring immigrants from six majority Muslim countries because it was discriminatory and would adversely affect non-U.S. born IMGs seeking to study, train, or provide medical care in the U.S.; joined in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging that the court overturn a modified version of the ban for the same reasons; issued a statement expressing concern that the Supreme Court uphold the ban; advocated for legislation to provide permanent legal status, and eventually citizenship for persons enrolled in DACA (Dreamers); successfully advocated to end delays in processing H-1B visa applications from IMGs that were stalled or denied due to increased scrutiny regarding prevailing wage data; and objected to the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant children from parents, or detaining parents and children together in detention facilities, because of the harm to the health of children and their families.
Many other medical organizations have shied away from immigration policy, maybe because it is considered to be too controversial, too complicated, too political, and too divisive among their own members and the public. Some may feel that immigration policy is not their area of expertise.
For sure, there are reasons to be cautious about entering the fray: immigration is controversial, complicated, political, and divisive, and physicians are not experts on how to enforce U.S. immigration laws or control access to our borders.
But physicians are experts on how public and social policy affects the health of the public and their patients. While immigration policy is complicated and controversial, so are many other issues, from gun violence to high prescription drug prices to what happens if people are denied access to affordable coverage. Yet, many physician professional societies have tackled those issues, because of their abiding concern for patients.
While my own family experience has no bearing on ACP policy, it is one of the reasons why I am especially proud of ACP’s willingness to speak out on the impact of immigration policies as a public health and human rights issue.
My father, Jack Doherty, was born poor in Ireland in a thatched cottage with no plumbing or electricity. He originally immigrated with my grandmother and grandfather to New York City as an infant. For reasons unknown to me, my dad at age two, returned to Ireland with my grandmother without my grandfather. My grandmother raised my dad as a single mother in Ireland on a subsistence farm for eight years, during which time they had no contact with my grandfather. When my father was 10, they got a letter from my grandfather asking them to return to New York to be with him. They sailed in steerage once again to the U.S. and were reunited with my grandfather.
My grandfather, Thomas, was owner and bartender at Doherty’s Bar in Woodside, Queens. My father told me he had a very difficult relationship with his father, given that my grandfather had abandoned him and my grandmother for so many years, and my father had grown up without knowing his dad.
Thomas died when my father was only 16. My widowed grandmother took over and ran Doherty’s Bar until my father was 18, and then my father ran it — not as an absent owner, but an owner-bartender who worked six days a week, 10-hour shifts behind the bar, serving shots and beer to blue collar workers. He married my mother, Marilyn, a few years later, a U.S.-born and college-educated woman who came from a working-class Irish-German background.
The bar ended up being successful enough for my mom, three sisters, and I to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle, enabling my siblings and me to go to good schools and colleges and have just about everything we wanted and needed.
When I was in college, I was the third generation of Doherty men to work behind the bar while on summer break from college.
Fast forward: my dad decided that being a bartender/bar-owner with only a high school diploma was not giving enough back the country (the U.S., not Ireland) that he so loved. While still tending bar 10 hours a day, six days per week, he went to college at night to get his B.A. in history, and then, his masters in secondary education. He sold the bar in the late 1970s and became a teacher in a New York City public high school that taught mostly underprivileged minority students. He said he wanted to teach disadvantaged minority kids who faced discrimination and hardship because he had been a poor child himself, facing discrimination (the Irish at that time were not welcome by many Americans) and hardship.
Because my grandmother, grandfather, and father came to America to escape dire poverty, my sisters and I had great schooling and a college education. One of my sisters is a U.S. diplomat, one’s an award-winning theater costume designer, and one is a social worker who has spent most of her professional life counseling poor and emotionally troubled teenagers. I, of course, have spent my career advocating for internal medicine physicians. The advantages we have had have been passed on to our children.
My dad passed away 11 years ago. His immigrant story, like millions of others, is what truly makes America great: unskilled, poor people coming to America to improve their lives, and by doing so, improving America.
So, when ACP speaks out for the unskilled, poor people coming to America today to improve their lives, it resonates with me. And makes me so proud.
Today’s questions: What is your view on ACP taking on immigration policy? And, do you have a family immigration story you want to share?
Bob Doherty is senior vice president of government affairs and public policy at the American College of Physicians and author of the ACP Advocate Blog, where a version of this post originally appeared.