EL PASO, Texas - Doctors who have been providing health care to refugee families released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol, and sent to hospitality sites operated by Annunciation House, are offering an urgent plea for access to children in border station facilities.
"We have asked for access — constantly, and the answer comes back 'no,' it is not current policy to allow access," Dr. Jose Manuel De la Rosa said at a news conference Tuesday. (You can watch the news conference in the video player below.)
The doctors spoke about the health needs of child refugees upon being released — and what refugees told them about the health care provided while in detention.
It was a sometimes bleak picture painted, with numerous instances of dehydration and infectious outbreaks among the children, not to mention psychological issues requiring treatment.
"We should be allowed in there to take care of the kids," said Dr. Carlos Gutierrez. "Us physicians (want) to go into the detention centers — and I hope it happens very soon."
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman told ABC-7 that some facilities have contracted health staff, but he didn't elaborate as to which facilities and the degree of training of the care providers. A protocol document provided suggested the contractors are often EMTs or paramedics, not pediatricians or doctors.
De la Rosa said the Academy of Pediatrics as well as local doctors were united in a common view: "We believe children should not be in detention centers, they don't belong in detention centers."
Lawyers representing a team of doctors and advocates recently warned of major health and hygiene problems at CPB stations in Texas following visits to the facilities; a federal judge has set a deadline later this month for officials to explain what efforts are being taken to address the complaints.