Children leave custody in poor health
Many migrants released from federal custody are in poor health and have not had access to medical care, according to doctors treating them in San Diego’s emergency shelter.
“We can tell that they have not necessarily had care anywhere along the road,” said Maria Carriedo-Ceniceros, chief medical officer for San Ysidro Health Center.
Most of the migrants arrive to the emergency shelter with weakened immune systems. They suffer mostly from communicable diseases like the flu, cold, and respiratory infections – illnesses associated with living in close confinement for long periods of time.
Additionally, doctors have treated pregnant women who have not been given prenatal vitamins, children with cavities, adults with tooth infections and several cases of rashes, scabies, and fungus.
Although some young children with high fevers have been taken to local hospitals, none of the migrants treated by San Ysidro Health Center providers have had to be hospitalized for extended periods of time.
The federal government’s treatment of migrant children attracted national attention in December, after two Guatemalan minors died while in federal custody. An 8-year-old boy was had previously been diagnosed with a cold and fever died on Christmas Day.
Even before the children’s death, doctors in San Diego were aware of the potentially fatal diseases some of the migrants have.
“It’s always on my mind,” said CarriedoCeniceros. “people forget that the common flu can be serious. People die from it.”
In response to the boy’s death, U.S. Customs and Border Protection ordered medical checks on every child in its custody.
However, local doctors have not noticed that migrants leaving federal custody are in any better condition.
“It’s probably too early to tell,” Carriedo-Ceniceros said. “I haven’t heard of any difference yet.”
The migrants in San Diego’s emergency shelter usually stay less than 48 hours. If they are given permission to live with relatives in the United States, they are released from federal custody until their immigration cases are resolved. The migrants stay in the San Diego’s emergency shelter until they can make travel arrangements to be with their families, most of which live east of the Mississippi, advocates said.
This dynamic presents healthcare providers with unique challenges. Specifically, doctors won’t always have the opportunity to do a follow up and they rarely know a patient’s medical history.
Doctors and nurses have to diagnose and immediately treat ailments while making sure the patients are safe enough to travel.
In one recent case, doctors struggled to find Amoxicillin for a boy with an ear infection who was going to be on a five-day bus ride to New Orleans the next day.