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Nurses Volunteering Medical Services See Sharp Increase in Numbers of Migrants Recently Released from Federal Detention

WASHINGTON - Nurse volunteers with the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) — a disaster-relief project of the California Nurses Foundation (CNF) and National Nurses United (NNU) — who are providing medical care in Tucson for migrants just released from federal detention say that they are noticing a sharp increase in recent weeks in the number of families they are treating.

In February, when RNRN first started sending teams of volunteer nurses to the area each weekend, nurses were assessing about 40 to 60 patients each day. Now, nurses are seeing upwards of 100 people each day.

"We've all seen the news reports of overcrowding and migrant families being held behind fences under freeway overpasses," said Cathy Kennedy, a Sacramento RN and NNU vice president who has traveled on RNRN deployments to the border before and will be in Tucson this weekend. "I want to go and see the situation for myself. We need to make sure that we provide any type of medical and mental care and support that we can. We need to listen to their stories and provide some gentleness and kindness. It's just the right thing to do." Kennedy noted that the vast majority of migrant families are fleeing extreme poverty, widespread violence, and political repression, conditions that were brought on in part because of U.S. policies.

Nurses will be available for interview in Tucson from April 5 through April 7. They are providing the medical aid at the Casa Alitas shelter operated by Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, which has provided assistance to more than 2,000 migrant families since October 2018.

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Nurses returning from past deployments have expressed great concern about the harsh and unhealthy conditions children and their parents are facing in federal detention, conditions that have led to the deteriorated medical states of some migrants.

Migrants and asylum seekers have shared with nurses on deployment in Tucson, that they are often housed in fenced cages with concrete floors, in very cold temperatures without adequate bedding or clothing for warmth. Nurses from previous RNRN deployments said that they have heard repeated stories of medications being confiscated or denied to those in custody, including medications for children with serious conditions, such as asthma inhalers and anti-seizure medications.

In addition, the nurses are distressed by migrants’ reports that they are being held for days without access to adequate food, clean water, or opportunity to bathe. They note that migrants nearly always arrive at the shelter very hungry, and suffering from dehydration.

"It’s unimaginable to conceive what kind of situations these families are escaping if they feel risking their lives and their children in such a torturous journey is a better option or solution," said Jessica Rose, a local Arizona RN who is returning to volunteer at the shelter and identifies with the migrants, being the child of immigrant parents. "The families we were able to help through the RNRN deployment come not only with stories of extreme poverty and fear, but stories filled with dreams and motivation drawn from hope and an opportunity to survive and thrive. As a nurse, I have a sense of responsibility for everyone when I see with my own eyes the needs of the people migrating.”

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National Nurses United, with close to 185,000 members in every state, is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in US history.

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