Borderland’s Children: Health Vulnerabilities of Immigrant Children (Part 1)

Borderland's children part-1_imageBy Sharon Chin

More than thirty thousand unaccompanied immigrant children have been rehomed across the US out of the seventy thousand-plus border children seized this year. The influx of women and children seeking asylum in the US is alarming as the numbers increase each year. Furthermore, the lagging response from immigration policy and services – originally intended to support 10% of those entering illegally – has been fuel for border controversy. Growing gang recruitment and violence in Central America, US policy favoring child protection, human smuggling/trafficking, American family members and the American Dream are all drivers that have brought these children, and vehement debate, to our doorstep. 

 Aside from the contention of defining what lawful treatment of borderland children should be, the issue of international migration is a public health affair. The differences in healthcare services between the US and other countries means that undetected illegal migrants bring with them the risk of diseases that are normally well monitored or non-existent. The Administration for Children and Families publicized that detainees are screened for tuberculosis (TB) as well as receive mental health exams and vaccinations before being allowed entrance into the US. However, while they are detained for one month (on average) in temporary – cramped – shelters, disease is given the opportunity to spread. With such a high volume of need for resources and healthcare, the intense strain on medical screenings for communicable diseases makes the US vulnerable to future outbreaks. 

 “Whatever the partisan arguments about how this crisis erupted, the most urgent question right now is how to prevent a public health crisis.” – Mark Siegel, M.D. 

 Dr. Mark Siegel, a professor of medicine at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, emphasizes that illegal immigration is a public health concern that requires medical attention to prevent possible emergent diseases from spreading. The risk is a compelling reason to urge the Centers for Disease Control to step in and add vigorous health screenings of immigrants to identify, contain and treat communicable diseases that have been detected in detainment states. Moreover, greater cases of drug-resistant TB and Dengue fever have appeared in the US near the border, and reports of measles, scabies, lice, strep throat and chicken pox have been issued from the temporary shelters. Several cases of pneumonia and swine flu (H1N1) have also been diagnosed among immigrant children. 


Cancer InCytes magazine has published articles about the chronic health risks immigrant children encounter due to their exposures to poverty, violence and trauma. 



Sharon E. Chin is an MPH candidate at Rutgers University and is Social Media Editor for Cancer InCytes magazine. Her interests are exploring social justice issues through public health lenses.


  • Administration for Children and Families. (2014). Unaccompanied Children Released to Sponsors by State. Office of Refugee Resettlement Data. Accessed on: 7/31/14. 
  • Lind,Dara. (2014Jul30). Everything you need to know about the child and family migrant crisis. Vox Cards. Accessed on: 7/31/14. 
  • Administration for Children and Families. (2014). Unaccompanied Children Frequently Asked Questions. 
  • Siegel, Mark (2014Jul3). A Public Health Crisis at the Border. Slate: Health & Science. 
  • Doherty, Daniel. (2014Jul08). Illness on the Rise: Cases of Scabies, Tuberculosis and Swine Flu All Reported at US Southern Border. Townhall Magazine.
  • Pompi, Jennifer. (2014Jul14). Pneumonia, swine flu outbreaks in immigrant children trouble border. The Washington Times. 

Image By Brittney Bush via

Leave a Comment