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Monday, April 15, 2024

Growing Health Risks for Migrant Children in Outdoor Holding Sites

The dire conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, exacerbated by a surge in migrant arrivals and strained resources, have prompted urgent calls for action to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding in makeshift holding areas.

Dr. Theresa Cheng, an emergency room physician from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, described the scene at Valley of the Moon, an outdoor holding site in San Diego’s rural Mountain Empire, as “apocalyptic.” Here, asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, await apprehension by American authorities after breaching the border wall.

Inadequate shelter, food, and sanitation infrastructure have led to a multitude of health concerns among the vulnerable population at these sites. Children with severe injuries, fevers, diarrhea, and asthma exacerbations are left exposed to the elements, with some hiding in dumpsters and porta-potties for refuge. The absence of proper medical care and facilities poses a significant risk of communicable diseases and outdoor exposures.

The legal battle over the government’s obligation to provide for these children’s basic needs intensifies as a Federal District Court judge in California prepares to rule on the matter. Lawyers for the Department of Justice argue that since the children have not been formally taken into custody, the government is not obligated to provide shelter and sustenance.

However, humanitarian organizations and advocates insist that these children deserve safe and sanitary housing as mandated by the Flores settlement agreement, which sets standards for the treatment of immigrant children in government custody. The lack of basic necessities like food, water, and diapers has raised alarm among volunteers providing aid at the border, with reports of infants vomiting due to dehydration and severe diaper rash.

The strain on medical resources is palpable as volunteers struggle to address the myriad health issues plaguing migrants, from broken bones and dehydration to panic attacks and hypothermia. The death of a 13-year-old boy, who waited an hour for emergency services after collapsing with blood pouring from his ears and nose, underscores the urgency of the situation.

Despite efforts to increase processing capacity and expedite apprehensions, the system remains overwhelmed, particularly in remote regions where migrant encounters are increasingly common. Makeshift camps have sprung up along the California border, with migrants forced to endure harsh conditions while awaiting processing.

The situation is further compounded by Mexican military activity pushing migrants towards urban areas, where gaps in the primary border wall result in increased injuries and trauma. Local emergency medical services are inundated with calls from the sites, highlighting the desperate need for comprehensive and timely medical intervention.

As the humanitarian crisis at the border continues to unfold, advocates and medical professionals are calling for urgent action to protect the health and well-being of vulnerable migrants, particularly children. Addressing the systemic shortcomings in processing and providing essential services is paramount to preventing further harm and loss of life in these dire circumstances.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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