For Asylum-Seekers Waiting In Mexico, Volunteers Offer Medical Help Thousands of asylum-seekers in Mexico are waiting their turn to ask U.S. border officials for asylum. A volunteer group of doctors and nurses travel to Tijuana weekly to attend to their health needs.

For Asylum-Seekers Waiting In Mexico, Volunteers Offer Medical Help

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Thousands of Central American migrants are living in shelters across Tijuana, waiting for their chance to ask for asylum at the U.S. border. They're living in close quarters, and as the temperatures drop, there are concerns about their health. A group of doctors, nurses and volunteers are crossing the border from San Diego once a week to provide medical care. KPCC's Alyssa Jeong Perry reports.

ALYSSA JEONG PERRY, BYLINE: The large government-run shelters where hundreds of migrants are living are serviced by health care professionals. But there's a number of informal shelters in the city where there's little or no health care. And that's where these volunteer groups of doctors and nurses focus their attention.


PERRY: At a private home that now serves as an LGBTQ shelter, Dr. Lucy Horton is treating a 20-year-old man who complained of tension headaches and body aches. Horton hands him some Tylenol and with the help of volunteer translator Diana Aguirre, she asks him if he's stressed. He nods his head yes.

LUCY HORTON: Do you have any family with you?

DIANA AGUIRRE: (Speaking Spanish).

HORTON: You're just by yourself.

AGUIRRE: (Speaking Spanish).

PERRY: The man began crying.

HORTON: You've made it really far.

AGUIRRE: (Speaking Spanish).

PERRY: Aguirre, the volunteer translator, was born in the U.S. and lives in northern San Diego County, but her grandmother and mom illegally crossed the Mexico-U.S. border decades ago, so the migrant caravan hits close to home for her.

AGUIRRE: I wanted to do more than just donate money. I wanted to do something hands-on.

PERRY: So she jumped at the chance to translate for the doctors and nurses. But the experience of seeing and talking to these migrants has had an emotional impact.

AGUIRRE: I can't imagine being young and feeling all alone and not knowing what's going to happen. And just to be able to be there for him was worth the entire day.

PERRY: Nurse practitioner Karen Linares also felt a personal connection to the migrants and wanted to volunteer her time.

KAREN LINARES: I was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, but I was adopted when I was 7. So just knowing that my raza, which is, like, my, you know, people from my country, I felt like I was obligated to come.

PERRY: The volunteers spend all day Sunday running from makeshift shelters to tent camps to provide basic medical care to up to 100 migrants. They hand out cold medicine, ibuprofen and antibiotics. They typically see colds, fevers and a lot of upper respiratory infections. But the care and medicine they do provide is crucial to preventing any viruses that could spread like wildfire throughout the overcrowded camps and shelters.

HORTON: I'm looking for antibiotics.

AGUIRRE: (Speaking Spanish).

PERRY: The group usually finds out by word of mouth where medical care is most needed, like this teen shelter in the middle of town. Seventeen-year-old Radonis is staying at the teen shelter. He asked that we do not use his full name out of security concerns. He's from Honduras and arrived in Tijuana after traveling through Mexico by riding on top of trains and walking. And before coming to the shelter, he slept on the beaches. Now he has a deep cough that just won't go away.

RADONIS: (Speaking Spanish).

PERRY: "I was sick all the way from Mexico City to here," he says. "I had everything - a cold. I was really sick." So the doctors hand him cough drops, and now he has time to rest in a safe place.

RADONIS: (Speaking Spanish).

PERRY: "I feel like I'm home," he says. "I'm improving every day." For NPR News, I'm Alyssa Jeong Perry in Tijuana.

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