A multi-dimensional public health crisis is unfolding on the U.S.-Mexico border that few seem ready to acknowledge, anthropologists Rachel Stonecipher & Sarah Willen write on the Access Denied blog.
The complexity of this crisis came to light during a recent study tour to Tucson, Arizona, in which Rachel Stonecipher took part.
Dehydration and heat-related illness claim hundreds of lives annually, and many of these deaths go unrecorded. No uniform system exists to count or repatriate remains. “We can only imagine the impact of these missed opportunities for identification on family members searching for their loved ones”, Stonecipher and Willen write.
For migrants who do reach their destination but face subsequent arrest, “interception” itself can involve serious health risks:
What happens to migrants after they are arrested and detained often remains shrouded from both the public eye and, to a great extent, the eyes of the human rights community. This is a particularly grave concern when arrested individuals already are sick or injured. (…) One especially serious concern involves the deportation of injured individuals who have not yet been medically stabilized. (…)
Detainees are also at risk of abuse – physical and mental – at the hands of police and Border Patrol officers. Despite official denials, No More Deaths, the Border Action Network, and other NGOs have collected and responded to numerous reports of abuse.
Through water stations, humanitarian aid camps, and desert patrols, a handful of NGOs provide assistance to migrants in need. But this cross-border health crisis is “far too vast for activists to address alone”, the anthropologists note:
Both human rights principles and contemporary realities demand that we hold countries with porous borders – including but not only the U.S. – accountable. Not only must such countries recognize migration as an enduring global phenomenon with complex causes and share accountability for both lives and deaths, but they must also engage in transnational public health efforts to develop the kind of multi-layered interventions needed to protect human life in border regions. (…)
Like the humanitarian organizations that work along the border, we all must insist on an expansive understanding of “public health” that recognizes people in transit as members of a common moral community: as people who are connected to us, and whose lives matter. Whether or not we understand or agree with the choice to migrate, activists along the U.S.-Mexico border remind us that border crossers are human beings who – like all other members of our moral community – are deserving of health-related attention, investment, and care.