Maria* was 36 weeks pregnant when she arrived at a shelter in McAllen, Texas, where the US-Mexico border is defined by the Rio Grande. Like so many fleeing violence that is heightened by political and climate instability and deep poverty, Maria had fled her home in Central America after a hurricane devastated her community and local gangs threatened her family members’ lives. She and her children traveled over 1,500 miles north to seek asylum in the US to save themselves from the threat of death. After crossing the Rio Grande, she turned herself in to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), asking for asylum. A few days later, she was released from CBP custody and given permission to travel north to her family to await her immigration hearing. CBP agents had dropped her off at a bus stop. Volunteers picked her and her children up and brought them to a nearby shelter.
Maria was seen by Annie, a nurse midwife, who soon assessed that Maria and her unborn baby were healthy and safe to travel. Through Healthy Babies, Children, and Mothers, Migrant Clinicians Network provides virtual case management to any asylum-seeking pregnant or postpartum mother at this shelter by enrolling these patients in MCN’s Health Network. Annie introduced Maria to Brenda, the onsite Health Network Associate, who enrolled Maria into Health Network.
Healthy Babies, Mothers, and Children is an initiative of Health Network that focuses solely on the health of pregnant women, newborn babies, and young children. Many of these asylum seekers and immigrants have urgent health needs that require additional attention and expedited care from our Health Network Associates. Through onsite enrollment at immigration shelters, these vulnerable patients are linked up with care as soon as possible.
After Maria was enrolled in Health Network, Alma, MCN’s Health Network Prenatal Coordinator, followed up with Maria over the phone, confirming her destination city and the address of her family in that city.
Then, Alma began the search to obtain Maria an appointment near her new home as soon as possible. This is no easy feat; many clinics are reluctant to accept new patients who are already in their third trimester of pregnancy and so close to giving birth. Many of these mothers have had little to no prenatal care in their home countries or during their journeys, to assess for any abnormalities or concerns, prior to their arrival in the US. Others became pregnant on the journey without the opportunity to be seen for initial prenatal screenings.
Alma made numerous calls to clinics in Maria’s destination city, trying to convince a clinic to take her as a patient, then, after finally finding a clinic, scheduling her a prenatal appointment and signing her up for sliding scale fees. Alma also had regular chats with Maria, to keep her updated on the progress, making sure no alarming changes in her pregnancy occurred in the meantime, and ensuring she had the transportation and support to attend the new appointments. Finally, Maria arrived at her new destination and was able to establish care at the clinic within days. Maria’s healthy baby was born just a few weeks later.
Healthy Babies, Mothers, and Children is an initiative specifically designed to serve new mothers like Maria. This initiative, a collaboration of which Health Network is a part, has served hundreds of pregnant and postpartum women since its inception in 2020. With the change of administrations and policies at the border, over 300 pregnant mothers were enrolled in the first three months of 2021. In some cases, this service has been lifesaving; in less serious cases, it provided a welcome to asylum seekers who are often suffering from trauma. In all cases, this program provided much-needed connection in patients’ new communities and access to essential care that would be difficult to attain without our assistance.
This critical initiative is growing to meet the needs of new mothers. In the coming months, we are expanding to other immigrant shelters along the southern border with the goal to serve families with medical needs as they arrive and link them to urgent medical care at their next destination, whether they ask for asylum in Brownsville, Texas, San Diego, California, or anywhere in between.
Please help us welcome asylum-seeking mothers and their children by supporting their medical care while they migrate. Make a donation to MCN’s Health Network to bolster our efforts to serve more asylum seekers.
* Names of patients and some identifying details have been changed or anonymized for the protection of the patients.
Healthy Babies, Children, and Mothers is an initiative of Health Network.
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