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San Diego Migrant Shelter Treats Sick Families Coming Out Of Custody

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Lice, chickenpox and the flu are some of the ailments migrant families suffer from when they arrive at the temporary migrant shelter in San Diego.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 As the House oversight committee holds a hearing about the treatment of immigrants, especially children being held in government custody. We are getting more insight on the health condition some asylum seekers are facing right here in San Diego. Hundreds battling communicable diseases. Here's Dr Jennifer Tutor, the deputy chief medical officer for San Diego County.

Speaker 2: 00:21 By far, the most common things we see are things like scabies and lice, which we treat immediately before those folk families are commingled with other families.

Speaker 1: 00:29 KPBS reporter Melina Spitzer has been covering this story and joins us now with more. Milena, welcome. Thanks for having me. This story took you to a shelter here in San Diego, run by Jewish family services where families are being dropped off after being in government custody. What kind of health ailments are they arriving with? Yeah, so typically the most common elements that we're seeing are lice and scabies, um, from being kept in such close conditions, sharing blankets and things like that. But we're also seeing a lot of influenza, chickenpox, and one of the most common issues is dehydration. You know, there isn't a lot of access to clean water. Uh, or even enough water and some of these facilities. And so a lot of the children and families are arriving very, very dehydrated at the shelter here in San Diego, a amongst the over 13,000 asylum seeking families that the shelter has serviced. There's been 746 cases of lice, 471 cases of scabies. And they did treat 235 cases of influenza, uh, over the last six months. So they are arriving to the shelter with all of these health issues after being in government custody in those detention facilities, what kind of treatment are they receiving once they get here? Yes. So I spoke with Dr Jennifer tutor who is the deputy chief medical officer for San Diego who we heard from earlier. And this is what she had to say about the treatment that they're receiving. Once they get to San Diego,

Speaker 2: 01:58 they get new clothes that have been donated, they get showers, um, and then they, if they need to be isolated or quarantine, families are kept together. But that all happens in a very safe area, um, where they follow all of the environmental and infectious disease protocols so that none of these conditions are passed along.

Speaker 1: 02:20 So they are receiving a medical treatment once they arrive here and are taken to the shelter run by Jewish family services. What can you tell us about the medical treatment? The migrants say they receive while in government custody? Well, it's interesting because as far as we know, they actually haven't received any medical treatment while in government custody or detention. And that's alarming given all of these cases of diseases and illnesses that a different, you know, migrants and asylum seekers are experiencing. We do know that, um, we've heard they've been being kept in very cold conditions. Um, so a lot of them asylum seekers in the shelter have reported that they've been held in something that they call refer to as like the icebox. So it's, it's just really, really cold conditions. Not enough water and sometimes not enough food as well. So that can be a very difficult situation.

Speaker 1: 03:15 And of course being kept in close quarters, a lot of these illnesses are spreading. In your reporting, you found that these asylum seekers from Central America are suffering from more than just physical ailments. Can you talk to me about that? So a lot of the asylum seekers that are coming from Central America are actually fleeing gang violence in their countries and the conditions that they have fled can really lead to some traumatic experiences in addition to the harrowing journey and any conditions that they might face in detention centers. Upon arriving, we've been hearing about mothers and their preteen boys arriving here in San Diego and many of them were recruited to join cartels. But when those families, or when those children say no, uh, oftentimes they're receiving threats to either themselves being killed or their whole families. And so in addition to that, we've heard reports from the doctor about assaults that they've gone through as well as threats on their life.

Speaker 1: 04:16 So really there they're fleeing really difficult conditions. Um, and if we, when you add to that, when they get into detention or custody, they're put in such close quarters in very cold conditions without enough food or water that really compounds the experience and many, many of the migrants at the shelter here in San Diego do reports or are showing signs of trauma. So then what is the shelters response to that trauma? Well, the shelter takes a trauma informed approach and Dr Tutor shared that. That's just like everything that we do here in the county of San Diego, right? So it's a live well approach. So what they're doing is creating a healthy, safe space where the migrants can thrive as long as they're at the shelter, which is typically only between 12 and 72 hours. So it's really, they're not recommending to ask a lot of questions about the trauma.

Speaker 1: 05:04 It's really not the appropriate place to start treating the trauma, but they do create safe playing areas for the children and safe spots all around the shelter. And it's clear and enforced that there's no yelling allowed, no screaming and no bullying and no violence. And of course no weapons. So the goal is to create a very safe place where they can feel comfortable in that shelter. Um, as part of that trauma informed approach before they continue on in their journey to be reunited with their families or their sponsors and other places around the United States. You talk about how policy is impacting the number of families arriving at the shelter also, which, you know, on the surface sounds like things are making a turn for the better, but that's not the case. That's right. So we know that the government has been implementing here in San Diego and in other border areas, the MPP, which is the migrant protection plan.

Speaker 1: 05:53 And what that essentially does is it sends migrants and asylum seekers back to Mexico to await their hearings. Um, and, uh, the shelter. Um, operators believe that this is actually one of the main causes for seeing the drop off in numbers at the shelter. It's not that people are not crossing, though. Typically they cross in smaller numbers during the summers because of the extreme heat and the deserts. But there are, hasn't really been a decline of people waiting at the border. Uh, it's more that, um, now in addition to individuals being sent back to Mexico to wait their hearings under the NPP, they've also started sending families back. And so the families simply are not arriving at our San Diego shelter because they're being sent back to wait on the other side of the border in Mexico. And the doctor said that that is concerning because they know that children really need to be housed.

Speaker 1: 06:41 They need, they need that support as well as adults. And so when you put a family into a precarious situation maybe where there aren't resources, where there isn't food security, where the temperatures are not appropriate, they may be sleeping in the streets if there's not room in the shelters on the Mexican side, that can be had additional trauma to the situation. And so this policy can detrimentally affect those families. What is Jewish family services asking for in terms of community assistance in their efforts to create a safe space for asylum seekers at this point? Yes. So there's a lot that people can do and Sandy, um, Jewish family services as part of the San Diego rapid response network. And so you can go to the rapid response networks website, which is rapid response s d. Dot. Org and they're, they're giving a lot of information about the types of ways that people can contribute.

Speaker 1: 07:33 They do need financial contributions because the shelter itself takes about $450,000 to operate things like portable showers, food, electricity, air conditioning, all of that is, is part of the operation costs a, but they're also accepting physical donations. Things like clothing, gently use toys. You know, when the families leave the shelter to go onto their final destination, they're often going on a bus ride that takes three or four days. And so children need something to keep them occupied. So that could be toys or games. But really the financial contributions can also help with a fund that goes towards transport. If by any chance their family members or sponsors aren't able to pay for tickets, um, then those tickets are purchased from that fund. And so there are some physical locations in San Diego where donations can be dropped off. And those are on the website as well. But those are the Good Samaritan Episcopal church and the UTC area and Lady of Guadalupe in Barrio Logan. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, Malaina Spitzer. Malina, thank you so much. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.