Volunteers with medical expertise are urgently needed to help address an influx of mostly Central American migrants crossing the Mexican border, according to New Mexico health officials.
The call, issued Saturday in an email from New Mexico Department of Health spokesman David Morgan, comes after last week’s news that the Trump administration has been weighing measures to divert asylum-seekers at the border to so-called sanctuary cities — those that have declared themselves welcoming to undocumented immigrants — or to shut the southwestern border entirely.
Bobbie MacKenzie, who heads the New Mexico Medical Reserve Corps, said more volunteers are needed right away in Las Cruces to relieve those who have been attending to the health of migrants being bussed from the border by federal agents.
While MacKenzie said each bus from the border typically brings 27 to 45 migrants to Las Cruces, the Las Cruces Sun News reported Saturday that the number has increased, with Border Patrol agents bussing a total of 178 migrants Friday and Saturday. The Health Department didn’t mention the increase in drop-offs, which forced the city to house migrants in a homeless shelter, a city recreation center and other sites, the Sun News said.
MacKenzie said most migrants have been housed and fed at churches and hotels in Las Cruces while they await travel to sponsor families, a process that can take up to three days. Medical volunteers have been helping to make health assessments, attend to the sick and fill prescriptions, she said.
“Some of the volunteers have been doing it for quite some time and are needing a break,” MacKenzie said.
Especially needed are physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses and emergency medical technicians.
The Medical Reserve Corps, part of the state Health Department, maintains a database of volunteers who can be deployed to emergencies throughout the state and beyond.
The administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has directed a multiagency effort to address the crisis on the state’s border with Mexico, including sending Health Department staff to help overburdened medical clinics along the border care for migrants, state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Secretary Jackie White wrote in a recent op-ed published in The New Mexican.
Morgan said in an interview Saturday that many of the migrants have been diverted from the border at El Paso to cities such as Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Tucson, Ariz.
“We certainly don’t know when the migrant influx is going to slow down,” Morgan said. “We are working day to day, week to week, to provide the assistance that we can.”
The Health Department also has a mobile health unit in Las Cruces to allow migrants a more private space to receive medical care, he said.
Volunteers usually work four to eight hours per day, with the number of days based on their availability, according to MacKenzie.
“All of the migrants that are coming through have been very grateful,” she said, adding that the volunteers find the work very rewarding. “They’re awesome,” she said. “They all have a passion for helping their communities.”
How to help
• Any health professional who would like to volunteer with the New Mexico Department of Health’s Medical Reserve Corps to help address a humanitarian crisis at the state’s southern border, where a surge of Central Americans is seeking asylum, can visit the corps’ website at nmmrcserves.org.