WWhen the Biden administration recently reopened a Trump-era detention center for children in Texas, it drew renewed attention to the migrant health care crisis at the United States’ borders.
The decision to reopen a detention center that caused a storm of opposition during the Trump administration, causing it to close within a month of opening, is more than controversial. It signals an impending emergency that endangers the health and well-being of vulnerable populations.
The harsh reality is that US migrant detention centers simply do not have the capacity, resources, or perhaps even the will, to meet the immense physical and mental health needs of migrants. Worse yet, not only are these centers ill-equipped and ill-prepared to support the physical and psychological care of migrants, but they also create the conditions that exacerbate and even incite disease.
From the mental and emotional stress of cramped and unsanitary conditions to the inability to socialize, these detention centers can, indeed, end up costing lives rather than saving them.
The risk of infectious disease
Detention centers are, almost inevitably, overcrowded environments. And given the recent influx of migrants flocking to the southern border of the United States, these facilities are quickly reaching and exceeding their maximum capacities.
Even in a pre-pandemic period, such overcrowded conditions would have significantly increased the risk of infectious diseases. In the era of COVID-19, however, disease transmission rates are sure to skyrocket. This is due not only to the virtual impossibility of practicing social distancing in these environments but also to insufficient sanitation and a lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, it is not only the physical environment that makes these detention centers a breeding ground for infectious diseases, including COVID-19. It is also the fact that these centers are sorely understaffed, resulting in little or no screening, follow-up or contact tracing.
Even before the pandemic, US migrant detention centers were known to provide medical care to detainees that was insufficient at best and fatal at worst. According to recent estimates, for example, nearly 200 migrants have died of medical negligence in detention centers since 2003.
Without sufficient systems in place to facilitate initial assessments and ensure migrants’ access to necessary medical care, we risk perpetuating historic and deadly health disparities for the world’s most marginalized populations, especially women and children. children of color. At the same time, we could also turn detention centers into areas susceptible to potential infections.
An impending mental health crisis?
In addition to the threats to physical health posed by these establishments, the accommodation of immigrants in detention centers also lays the groundwork for a mental health crisis at the border. By the time migrants arrive at these centers, there is a good chance that they have already endured significant hardship, so much so that they would be willing to risk a perilous journey to find refuge in the United States.
And there is also a great chance that, whatever the nature of the difficulties, they received little or no care for these traumas in their homeland. Studies show that minorities, members of the LGBTQ + community and those in economic insecurity are disproportionately affected by health inequalities, including lack of access to mental health care.
Sadly, the vast majority of migrant detention centers in the United States are unable to compensate for these pervasive disparities, especially when it comes to psychiatric care. Indeed, as has been demonstrated, the experience of illegal migration, combined with the stressors of being housed in the untenable conditions of the detention center, are themselves often precipitating causes of mental illness, ranging from depression and anxiety to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Studies show that in the general population of the United States, only about 50% of people with severe psychiatric disorders receive the mental health care they need. In the overcrowded and understaffed migrant detention center environment, where systemic inequalities based on race, gender, sexual orientation and class not only persist but can easily be magnified, lack of access to adequate mental health care is even more acute and pernicious.
This is a particularly dangerous reality for children, who likely lack the ability to understand what is happening to them or the coping skills to respond in an emotionally healthy way. Removed from everything and everyone they once knew, loved and depended on, and thrown into unfamiliar and often frightening environments, these children are often severely traumatized. Without proper care, these injuries can linger for years or even decades, leading to a potentially devastating toll for the child that can last into adulthood.
The crisis on the southern border of the United States is not just a political and humanitarian crisis. It is also a serious public health emergency, which threatens the lives and well-being of countless migrants. From the threat of infectious diseases to the perpetuation of global health care inequalities to the precipitation of a widespread mental health emergency, migrant detention centers fail to those who have risked everything to find hope, health. and security in America.
The opinions and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
The author is a creative professional with a lifetime of service and care experience. As a manager, he has learned a host of business tricks that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication he brings to his job.
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