San Diego Migrant Shelter Treats Sick Families Coming Out Of Custody
Lice, scabies, influenza, chickenpox and dehydration are some of the ailments children and their parents are suffering from when they arrive on the doorstep of the temporary migrant family shelter in San Diego. The shelter, run by Jewish Family Service, screens the families to check for communicable diseases. Many families have been brought to San Diego after multi-day stays at overcrowded detention facilities in Texas and Arizona.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing on the treatment of immigrant children in government detention facilities in response to a public outcry against “inhumane conditions” reported at migrant detention centers for children in Texas.
“By far the most common things we see are scabies and lice, which we treat immediately before those families are co-mingled,” said Doctor Jennifer Tuteur, who sees patients at the shelter. She is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for San Diego County.
Since January, the shelter has received over 13,000 asylum-seeking families and treated 235 cases of influenza, 746 cases of lice, and 471 cases of scabies.
Tuteur says the quarantine of the migrants prevented the spread of the flu into San Diego.
“They get new clothes that have been donated, they get showers and then if they need to be isolated or quarantined families are kept together,” Tuteur said. “That all happens in very safe areas where they follow all of the environmental and infectious disease protocols so that none of those illnesses are passed along.”
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In addition to communicable diseases, many children and families arrive at the shelter dehydrated and report they lacked access to sufficient water and nutritious food while in detention. Asylum-seekers also say they were held in cold facilities, referring to the detention center as “hieleras” or “ice boxes.” No treatment was known to be provided to the asylum-seekers while they were in custody.
Beyond the physical ailments contracted through their harrowing journey, many children show signs of trauma. While Dr. Tuteur said the San Diego shelter is not the best place to treat the trauma that many migrants have suffered, the shelter follows a trauma-informed approach to make sure people feel safe.
“There are play areas. There are safe spots all around the shelter. It is very clear and very well enforced that there is no yelling, no screaming, no bullying no violence. No weapons,” Tuteur said. “So it’s very much a safe place.”
Families typically only stay in the shelter between 12 and 72 hours before traveling on the final leg of their journey to meet family members or sponsors in the U.S.
In the last two weeks, the shelter has seen a drastic drop in the number of migrants arriving. They attribute that drop in number partly to the summer heat, which makes it more dangerous to cross the border. But they say it’s also due to the Department of Homeland Security’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPPs, under which authorities have begun returning families to Mexico to await their immigration proceedings.
That’s concerning, according to Dr. Tuteur, who says families returned to Mexico may not have access to the resources and treatment they need.
The children that thrive, Tuteur said, “are children who are reunited with their families, children who are housed as opposed to living on the streets, children who are in stable living areas where there is no violence, there is not food insecurity and the temperatures are appropriate."
“All of those kinds of things are very important to children’s growth, to children’s development, and they’re very important to parents,” Tuteur said. “So the idea of keeping families safe, healthy and thriving, that’s what San Diego is all about.”
Not all migrant families are lucky enough to reach San Diego and receive treatment, with many families forced back across the border to wait in Mexico and fend for themselves.
For more information about the Migrant Family Shelter visit the San Diego Rapid Response Network.