MEPNs work with refugees seeking asylum in the United States at US Mexico border

This post is written by guest writer, and 2nd year MEPN Jessica Erickson

USD Hahn School of Nursing continues to expand its footprint throughout Tijuana, Mexico. The Mulvaney Center, USD’s connection for community engagement and social action, led us beyond the border to Ambassadors of Jesus, a shelter for migrants hoping to seek asylum, safety, and stability in America. 

The Migrant Protection Protocol, put in place by the Federal government, frequently referred to as “Remain in Mexico”, was implemented in January 2019. This policy returns asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry on the US-Mexico border back to Mexico to wait there for the duration of their US immigration processing; and thus, Ambassadors of Jesus was born. The US Department of Homeland Security states Mexico will provide this vulnerable population with appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay. However, our eyes were opened to the reality of what this promised protection truly looks like from the perspective of the asylum seeker.

Ambassadors of Jesus is a humble space currently housing over 200 individuals from various countries throughout South America, along with 30 adults and 5 children from Haiti. There are two structures separated between the South American and Haitian populations with an evident racial divide. This gap is only bridged when medical relief is present at the facility. Upon first glance, a sea of tents chaotically fills up the main room. Bunk beds are stacked against a wall for child use only. There is running water, bathroom facilities and a kitchen. No privacy is offered. There are few toys and children’s books available, but only in English or Spanish. Everyone seems to stay inside. 

With close proximity comes easy spread of disease. Lice, scabies, and other communicable diseases were breeding throughout the population at this shelter. There is an alarming need for health education. Therefore, 15 MEPN students ran an interactive health fair that consisted of dental hygiene, hand hygiene, personal hygiene, and lice screenings with treatment. First year MEPNs ingeniously used corn on the cob and coffee grounds to depict dirty teeth that require daily brushing. Students acted out when to wash your hands, and the children followed suit with laughter. Families lined up for lice screenings and treatment, turning the opportunity into a communal game of who could pick out the most amount of lice first. After families went through each station, they received a goodie bag containing basic hygiene products the shelter does not provide. Medical relief was offered that day, but only because it was Saturday. The volunteer medical services consisted of 7 doctors, each with a specific specialty ranging from pediatrics to infectious disease. MEPN students assisted with patient intake and assessment.

First year MEPNs Rachel Hammersley and Kimberly Woolery performing lice treatments.

One guest consented to me telling her perspective, and encourages it to be heard. After what felt like rejection from America, she said that she had no other option but to come to this center. Her current length of stay at Ambassadors of Jesus is longer than anticipated, but she is grateful that she is safer than she was in her home country. At first, she felt uncomfortable living in an open space with strangers. Luckily, there is safety in numbers, and the neighboring community is one of welcoming unity.

This guest explained that the resources of this center are given from the surrounding, Mexican community members. It is the community that actually sees, hears, and acknowledges the needs of these asylum seekers. Neighbor is helping neighbor seek security and ensure protection of human rights, instead of either Mexico or US government systems. This community spreads awareness, shows support and empowers across cultures, demonstrating how change is possible and can be sustainable. What a lesson we learned that day. This guest pleaded that we follow suit with our own neighboring asylum seekers in the US because they too need our advocacy.

A message of hope at Jewish Family Services.

Community-based care is demonstrated on our side of the border as well. My community clinical at Jewish Family Services (JFS), part of the San Diego Rapid Response Network, offers services to asylum seeking families in San Diego. JFS reflects the important work of Ambassadors of Jesus, and is also functioning off of outside resources. The site speaks for the marginalized, spreading awareness about the need for meeting human rights with justice. Yet, as JFS rises to lift others up, it falls with lack of support from our community and government. At JFS, we have learned our main role as nursing students is to ensure that no one stands alone in our community. As nurses, we are advocates for the people. We have a duty to treat our patients as a whole person first. No matter our race, religion, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status, nursing takes us to a level of humanization for each individual we cross paths with. Ambassadors of Jesus and JFS embody this perspective: for the people.

We ended the journey across the border at a taco shop. With full stomachs and happy hearts, we unpacked the highs and lows of the day. Our team encouraged one another on what was done well, and what steps could be taken toward areas of improvement for the benefit of the Ambassadors of Jesus community in the future. These trips continue to mold our time management and critical thinking skills, creativity, teaching abilities, communication across barriers and patient advocacy. The emphasis on cross cultural and community based partnerships continue to fuel our passion to serve.

About kathymarsh

Associate Dean at Hahn School of Nursing University of San Diego
This entry was posted in Class of 2020, community involvement, Guest Writer, University of San Diego and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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