Asylum Illnesses: Immigrants find health problems chronic and worsen while they wait

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico — Two days after arriving at a temporary immigrant shelter at the U.S. border in June, Rosa Viridiana Ceron Alpizar’s 9-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son fell ill. Most of the kids in the converted gym had stomach problems after being served a meal of sausages and beans, he recalled.

Alpizar’s daughter recovered quickly, but her son did not. Jose had a fever and diarrhea and threw up. When the nurses at the asylum could not help, Alpizer sought out a private doctor, who prescribed antibiotics.

In mid-June, Alpizer, his partner, children and brother Leona moved to Vicario, a former factory that the Mexican government converted to house migrants who were waiting to cross into the US weeks later, although, a doctor said that his son was still not improving. “He showed me the chart again and told me it was still the same,” Alpizar said in Spanish through an interpreter while at a shopping complex near the shelter. “She is still malnourished.”

Three years ago, Mexico had few shelters for immigrants who, like Alpizar and his family, presented themselves to U.S. authorities and were usually either detained at an American facility or released on parole while they awaited trial. In both cases, they had potential access to the US health care system.

But a constellation of U.S. immigration policies, growing numbers of asylum seekers and refugees, and the Covid-19 pandemic have turned Mexican border towns into holding areas for people awaiting policy changes and hoping to head north. And despite recent efforts by the Biden administration to loosen some of these policies, little seems likely to change in the coming months. Alpizar and his family are now among thousands of people living in the recently built Juarez shelter, a few miles from El Paso, Texas.

Leona Vicario shows the interior of the shelter in a photo  Bunk beds with mattresses are arranged on a repurposed factory floor.
Leona Vicario in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was converted from a factory to a migrant shelter. Miles from El Paso, Texas.(Rosa viridiana Seron Alpizer)

The wait — which can last months — has led some immigrants, like Alpizer’s children, to develop health problems; Exacerbating chronic disorders such as high blood pressure or diabetes; Some are left in terrible conditions without care; and compounded the trauma experienced by those who fled their homes.

Under Title 42, a public health emergency order that the Trump administration first invoked in March 2020 to stop the spread of Covid, Alpizer and his family were not allowed to appear at border checkpoints and claim political asylum — they would be immediately deported and screened. Except Mexico.

According to the KFF study, this policy, one of several that keep immigrants in Mexico, is actually “counterproductive” to protecting people from Covid.

The Leona Vicario shelter has faced outbreaks of chickenpox and measles since it opened in 2019. It is still considered one of the best shelters as it is run by the Mexican government. Nonprofit and private shelters operate with little oversight and their quality varies.

Some migrants sleep on the streets. In general, conditions are making people sick and care is limited, said Gabriela Muoz, project manager at the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in Juarez.

Alpizar decided to cross the border from Cuernavaca, a city south of Mexico City, he said, after an attempted abduction of his children. That same day, his brother Angel and partner, Pablo Sandoval Arce, were beaten on their way home from painting an apartment. He told José’s father, Pablo, that this was not a coincidence.

Alpiza reported the incidents to the local police, he said, but was told nothing could be done. A few days later, they arrived in Juarez with money from Alpizar’s aunt in South Carolina, who helped raise Alpizar and his brother after their mother died. Alpizar is now trying to get a waiver under Title 42 that would allow his family to file an asylum application and join his aunt until their case is heard.

Cristal Sandoval, director of strategic initiatives for the El Paso center, said Las Americas receives about 4,000 calls a day. Only 100 people draw responses. About 70% of callers need treatment – they need immediate treatment for cancer, a condition such as diabetes that is out of control, or have anaemia. Others have been sexually assaulted or had high-risk pregnancies. The group helps 60 to 90 people a week get waivers, which allow them to apply for asylum and wait for their court dates in the United States.

Immigration advocates say Title 42 has not only done more harm than good to public health, but that the rule has been applied selectively. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has stopped immigrants about 1.7 million times in the current federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. According to the agency, about half of these stops are evictions under Title 42. About 65% of them were people from Mexico, while the majority of other deportations involved people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In April, however, American authorities temporarily allowed Ukrainians in Mexican asylum to enter the United States

In many ways, the Alpizar family’s treatment story is not the most extreme. Other migrants have immediate, life-threatening needs. In 2019, after waiting five months in a shelter, a Ugandan woman died in a Juarez hospital — the same week officials processed her asylum request. According to an autopsy, he died of sepsis, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Alpizar’s situation mirrors how U.S. immigration policy has outsourced immigrant care to Mexico, said Jeremy Slack, an immigration researcher at the University of Texas-El Paso, who first met Alpizar during a weekly visit to Leona Vicario.

Federal courts have delayed or blocked the Biden administration’s efforts to roll back some immigration policies. In May, just days before Alpizer was set to make his journey, a federal judge blocked the Biden administration from halting the Title 42 order.

Some nonprofits, meanwhile, try to help immigrants access care during their border waits. The Hope Border Institute, a Catholic non-profit, started a fund to help private doctors see them, pay for hospital stays, fill prescriptions and transport them to appointments.

When a doctor advised Alpizer to put her son on a special diet, the family initially went shopping to buy him food not available at the shelter, which is home to about 600 people. Later that day, however, when they check a refrigerator that shelter residents share, the fruit and yogurt are gone. Pablo now shops three times a week, buying small amounts to feed his son.

One photo shows Rosa Viridiana Ceron Alpizar with her family inside a grocery store.
Rosa Viridiana Ceron Alpizar takes her family grocery shopping.(Renuka Raisam/KHN)

Then, in late July, a shelter doctor diagnosed Jose with conjunctivitis and gave him antibiotic eyedrops. Shortly thereafter, his sister, Jo, tested positive for Covid and the family was sent to the asylum’s isolation ward.

Gastrointestinal problems, respiratory illnesses like Covid, and skin conditions are common in shelters, where people are kept in cramped quarters, said Dr. Julie Linton, co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Immigrant Child and Family. Health. He treated many newly arrived children who had multiple parasitic infections because they lacked access to clean water or sanitary conditions during their travels.

Jose may have something more serious, but specialized care and testing are not available to immigrants, said Dr. Bert Johanson, an El Paso pediatrician who volunteers at a Mexican shelter.

Or maybe Jose just needs a stable place to recover.

Chronic stress suppresses the immune system, making infection more likely and recovery more difficult, Linton said. Marissa Limon, senior director of advocacy and programming at the Hope Borders Institute, said long waits are creating or intensifying existing trauma. Linton said mental health disorders are the most common health conditions for people in shelters and detention centers.

In July, Las Americas officials told Alpizar that he would have to wait at least eight to 10 weeks before knowing if his family would be exempted.

Alpizar considered crossing illegally but lacked the funds. A sense of desperation drove the migrants to make that perilous journey.

Eddie Canales, director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, said the lack of legal avenues to seek asylum “forces people into more vulnerable areas, taking more risks.” “The border is a graveyard.”

Related topics

Contact us Submit a story tip

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.