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Caring For The Nation’s Immigrant Children

The Nations


In 2014, news reports grasped the public’s attention with stories about thousands of immigrant children crossing the Mexican-American border. Although these stories have faded from the front page, nurses like Cathy Woodward, began wrestling with questions about the future healthcare needs of these children. 


For the last several months, Woodward, an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Texas, has been volunteering at a portable health clinic in McAllen, Texas.


Guidelines Address Issues

Woodward and three others developed guidelines for the care of newly immigrated children. The guidelines were released in March at the NAPNAP annual conference in Las Vegas.


The guidelines cover Tuberculosis, immunization and also the specific mental health issues immigrant children may be facing such as depression and isolation and provide tools for evaluating and treating behavioral health. “If patients have written records of immunizations, then clinicians can start from where the children left off rather than re-immunizing,” Woodward said.


Life In The States

Border protection agencies encountered more than 67,000 children from Mexico in 2014, compared with about 38,000 in 2013. Data from 2015 suggests that the numbers are dropping as a result of government efforts to decrease illegal immigration.


Although the numbers are decreasing, most of the children Woodward saw in Texas had slim prospects of receiving health insurance in the near future because they were not legal citizens, she said.


Care With Dignity

“The most common  we see are obesity, dental cavities, vision problems, anemia and asthma, but we do find others, such as, scabies, atopic dermatitis and tinea,” said Joyce Yoshimizu, a nurse who works in a school-based health clinic in Los Angeles. 


Many immigrant students do not have immunization records, and as a result they receive the standard vaccines in the school health clinic, which is part of the School Enrollment Placement Assessment Center.


ED nurses also may encounter immigrant children, said Elda Ramirez, a clinical professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Texas. “We see immigrant children with upper respiratory infections as a result of asthma, but they do not usually come in unless they are really sick,” Ramirez said.


However, there are a lot of ethical issues. Nurses may encounter cultural and language differences surrounding the immigrant children who enter this country, Ramirez believes it is imperative to rise above these factors to facilitate the best healthcare. “There are a lot of people who are on one side or the other in the immigration debate, and this can be a very uncomfortable place for healthcare providers,” Ramirez said. “It is really important not to have any bias or judgment. The bottom line is that we need to treat these children with dignity and ask ourselves whether there is anything we can do to make this child healthier.” 

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