Just as they did several years ago, Texas physicians stand ready to volunteer their help as the federal government addresses an influx of thousands of migrant children and their families at the United States-Mexico border.
The state has no current role in the medical efforts at the border, and the children’s medical care at the border facilities “is all coming from the Feds,” Lara Anton, press officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told Texas Medicine on Thursday.
“They haven’t asked for assistance,” she said. “We can provide a vaccine if needed, and we would expect any infectious diseases to be reported to us. But that’s where we are right now.”
Border authorities had been enforcing the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal crossings, leading to reports of thousands of children being separated from their family members. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end those separations.
“Texas physicians, whether volunteers or government employees, have tended to the medical needs of children crossing our border for years. Our commitment to them is steadfast and everlasting,” said TMA President Douglas Curran, MD (above). “We commend the president’s executive order to ‘maintain family unity,’ but we urge that the children’s pressing medical concerns also be addressed. Research has documented that adverse childhood events — such as violence experienced in their home countries, the long and dangerous travel to America, and unexpected separation from their families — when left untreated, lead to a lifetime of serious health problems.”
The numbers and types of practitioners the federal government and its contractors are deploying at the facilities are not clear.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which operates under HHS, did not respond to interview requests for this story. Carlos Diaz, southwest branch chief for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, responded to an interview request by referring Texas Medicine to HHS.
Back in 2013 and 2014, Texas physicians volunteered their time to tend to the medical needs of thousands of undocumented immigrants, most of whom came from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
El Paso pediatrician Carlos Gutierrez, MD, says the pediatric community is on standby to help out at the nearby detention facility in Tornillo. And local medical organizations are agreeing to care for children who need it, Dr. Gutierrez says.
Juan Perez, MD, president of the El Paso County Medical Society (EPCMS), says the Border Regional Advisory Council (BorderRAC) is responsible for organizing medical responders for natural disasters or other events. BorderRAC then approaches EPCMS for help. Wanda Helgesen, executive director of BorderRAC, did not return a phone message Thursday.
“We reached out to the RAC, and … HHS told [the RAC] that at this point there was nothing to be done,” Dr. Perez said. “So our efforts mainly are to get our providers ready and get numbers in order to get people out there once they need us.”