Public Health New Mexico
6:07 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

Doctor Contests Health Fears About Artesia Immigration Facility

A child receives an examination from a doctor in Mexico.
A child receives an examination from a doctor in Mexico.
Credit World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr / Creative Commons License

There have been a number of reports that residents and officials are concerned that the surge of Central American immigrants who've crossed the U.S./Mexico border in recent weeks will have an impact on public health. A number of these immigrants are being held in a federal facility in Artesia in southern New Mexico. 

Dr. Allen Keller is Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, and Director of the NYU School of Medicine Center for Health and Human Rights. Keller recently visited the detention center in Artesia to assess the medical situation there.

"My understanding is that the vaccination rates among children are very high in the countries these people are arriving from," Keller said. "These concerns, which I think are more of a smokescreen for 'not in my backyard,' are unfounded."

Keller said the medical facilities at the Artesia detention center have some problems, many of which come from staff being overwhelmed by the volume of people they are to care for and the speed with which they were ordered to set up the facility. He said he also heard reports of women and children not having access to medications they may need, though he noted staff medical staff are doing their best. 

Keller said his main concern, other than an apparent lack of due process before deportations occur, is a lack of mental health services at the facility. 

"There needs to be a very well trained team of experienced mental health professionals on-site," Keller said. "This is a very traumatized population, putting families in immigration detention is not benign. It has harmful consequences on the family structure, and it has potentially harmful consequences on individuals' mental health."