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COVID-19 is Just One of the Many Health Issues Facing Migrants on the Southern Border

This week, AM analysts are monitoring the effects of COVID-19 among immigrants entering the southern border. The CBP reported that in June, 188,829 people attempted to enter the country along the southwest border, a 5% increase from May. There has also been a surge in the number of apprehensions since the implementation of the Title 42 program, which prohibits entry into the U.S. and authorizes the expulsion of undocumented migrants who may pose a public health risk. This policy has put a strain on services aimed at helping immigrants. According to Kate Clark, senior director of immigration services of Jewish Family Services of San Diego (JFSSD), the services they provide cannot keep up with the increased demands. “We continue to do the work. At this point, unfortunately, we’re not able to serve everyone,” Clark said.

In Texas, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez announced a local disaster declaration out of a concern that there might be an uptick in COVID-19 cases with the influx of migrants who have crossed the border. He said that the region “has reached the point of capacity” and that these “extraordinary measures” were implemented in hopes that the county could qualify for funds that would help cover the costs associated with immigration. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, while many successful public health programs have been implemented, additional infrastructure resources, such as research institutions and culturally competent health care providers, are still needed across the region.

CDC reports that, compared with the rest of the U.S. population, some refugees have increased risks of suffering the effects of COVID-19 due to certain underlying medical conditions and limited access to healthcare. These risks may be compounded due to their living and working conditions, in particular, if they have recently resettled. It has also been stated by the International Rescue Committee that deportation can result in a wider spread of infections. In addition, there are concerns about the physical and mental health of migrants, especially children. A whistleblower complaint brought by two federal employees said that migrant children are suffering from severe trauma as a result of overcrowding and inadequate access to mental health services. This case indicates a wider problem demanding that special attention should be given to this vulnerable section of the population.

It has been reported that many of the 2,000 migrants currently at the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana have suffered from various health problems while waiting for their political asylum claims to be decided. While a few cases of COVID-19 have been detected, the migrants have also suffered from chickenpox, the flu, and coughs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has reallocated $860 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to cover the costs related to the pandemic at the Southern border. An HHS spokesperson stated that the funds will be used “to ensure the continued health and safety of children and staff,” highlighting the need for shelters that have appropriate facilities to provide the necessary levels of care. To date, 17,117 children in the custody of the department have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Mexican government has also made great efforts to reduce the rate of infections among migrants along its border with the United States. Baja California, which has seen three to five thousand migrants arriving daily, has started to vaccinate migrants coming from Central America, Mexico, Colombia, Haiti, and other countries. According to Alonso Pérez Rico, Baja California’s health secretary, more than 4,000 migrants have been vaccinated so far, either in shelters or by attending vaccination sites. Although it is expected that this effort will not increase the rates of vaccination substantially, the hope is that it can still save thousands of lives and mitigate the spread of the virus.

Undocumented migrants in the United States tend to be unaware of COVID-19 risk factors and how and where to get a vaccine. AM’s field research and community outreach confirm this. Our experience has shown that these vulnerable populations are highly distrustful of government authorities, including healthcare providers, fearing possible arrest and deportation. Building trust with these communities is the necessary first step before any meaningful dialogue can take place to educate and persuade them to be vaccinated.

AM LLC is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at c.orlea@amllc.co.

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