Migrant shelters try to help traumatized assault survivors

Dec 30, 2022, 5:18 PM | Updated: Dec 31, 2022, 7:30 am
Migrants try to stay warm while camping outside the Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas, on Sunda...

Migrants try to stay warm while camping outside the Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Growing numbers of migrants suffer violence that amounts to torture on their journeys. Doctors, social workers, clergy and shelter directors say they’re arriving at the US-Mexican border in desperate need for trauma-informed medical and mental health treatment. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

(AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

              A migrant from Venezuela applies makeup while camping outside the Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              A migrant woman carries a child on her back while looking at the line of fellow migrants attempting to enter into El Paso, Texas after crossing the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              A migrant family climbs the northern bank of the Rio Grande after crossing from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in their attempt to enter into El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              Migrants try to stay warm after spending the night on the southern bank of the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              A migrant child tries to warm her feet with what remains of a campfire at the southern bank of the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              A migrant carries food while crossing the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              A migrant child cries to get the attention of his father while the family waits in the southern bank of the Rio Grande to cross into El Paso, Texas from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              Dr. Brian Elmore, right, with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso, Texas, checks the bleeding nose of Honduran migrant Elvin Cruz, 5, as his mother, Diana Rosales, looks on at a government-run shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              Dr. Krystal Lopez, right, with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso, Texas, provides medical attention to Honduran migrant Elvin Cruz, 5, as his mother Diana Rosales looks on at a government-run shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              A migrant mother and her child, from El Salvador, eat breakfast at a government-run shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              Migrants are play near bunk beds inside a government-run shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              Migrants walk around bunk beds inside a government-run shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              Migrant children play a video game at a government-run shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              A migrant child sleeps at a government-run shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
            
              Migrants try to stay warm while camping outside the Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. Growing numbers of migrants suffer violence that amounts to torture on their journeys. Doctors, social workers, clergy and shelter directors say they’re arriving at the US-Mexican border in desperate need for trauma-informed medical and mental health treatment. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — Since he began volunteering two months ago for weekend shifts at a clinic in one of this border city’s largest shelters, Dr. Brian Elmore has treated about 100 migrants for respiratory viruses and a handful of more serious emergencies.

But it’s a problem he hasn’t yet managed to address that worries him the most – the worsening trauma that so many migrants carry after long journeys north that often involve witnessing murders and suffering from kidnappings and sexual assault.

“Most of our patients have symptoms of PTSD — I want to initiate a screening for every patient,” said Elmore, an emergency medicine doctor, at Clinica Hope. It was opened this fall by the Catholic nonprofit Hope Border Institute with help from Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, which borders Juarez.

Doctors, social workers, shelter directors, clergy and law enforcement say growing numbers of migrants suffer violence that amounts to torture and are arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border in desperate need of trauma-informed medical and mental health treatment.

But resources for this specialized care are so scarce, and the network of shelters so overwhelmed by new arrivals and migrants who’ve been stuck for months by U.S. asylum policies, that only the most severe cases can be handled.

“Like a pregnant 13-year-old who fled gang rapes, and so needs help with childcare and middle school,” said Zury Reyes Borrero, a case manager in Arizona with the Center for Victims of Torture, who visited that girl when she gave birth. “We get people at their most vulnerable. Some don’t even realize they’re in the U.S.”

In the past six months, Reyes Borrero and a colleague have helped about 100 migrants at Catholic Community Services’ Casa Alitas, a shelter in Tucson, Arizona, that in December was receiving about 700 people daily released by U.S. authorities and coming from countries as distinct as Congo and Mexico.

Each visit can take hours, as the case workers try to build a rapport with migrants, focusing on empowering them, Reyes Borrero said.

“This is not a community that we talk babbling brook with… They might not have any memory that’s safe,” said Sarah Howell, who runs a clinical practice and a nonprofit treating migrant survivors of torture in Houston.

When she visits patients in their new Texas communities, they routinely introduce relatives or neighbors who also need help with severe trauma but lack the stability and safety necessary for healing.

“The estimated level of need is at least five times higher than we support,” said Leonce Byimana, director of U.S. clinical services for the Center for Victims of Torture, which operates clinics in Arizona, Georgia and Minnesota.

Most migrants are traumatized by what they left behind, as well as what they encountered en route, Byimana said. They need “first-aid mental health” as well as long-term care that’s even harder to arrange once they disperse from border-area shelters to communities across the country, he added.

Left untreated, such trauma can escalate to where it necessitates psychiatric care instead of therapy and self-help, said Dylan Corbett, Hope Border Institute’s executive director.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the U.S. branch of the global Catholic refugee agency, is planning to ramp up mental health resources in the coming weeks in El Paso, which has seen a surge in crossings, said its director, Joan Rosenhauer.

All along the border, the most staggering trend has been the increase in pregnant women and girls, some younger than 15, who are victims of assault and domestic violence.

Volunteers and advocates are encountering so many of these survivors that they had to focus scarce legal, medical and shelter resources on helping them, leaving hundreds of other victims of political violence and organized crime to fend for themselves.

Service providers and migrants say the most dangerous spot on journeys filled with peril at every step is “la selva” – the Darien Gap jungle separating Colombia from Panama, crossed by increasing numbers of Venezuelans, Cubans and Haitians who first moved to South America and are now seeking safer lives in the United States.

Natural perils like deadly snakes and rivers only add to the risks of an area rife with bandits preying on migrants. Loreta Salgado was months into her flight from Cuba when she crossed the Darien.

“We saw many dead, we saw people who were robbed, people who were raped. We saw that,” she repeated, her voice cracking, in a migrant shelter in El Paso a few days before Christmas.

Asked about “la selva,” some women just suck in their breath – and only later reveal having saved their daughters by speeding them along and getting raped themselves, or enduring strained relationships with their partners who were made to watch the assault, Howell said.

“I don’t think it’s the first rape that most women I’ve talked to have experienced. But it’s the most violent and the most shameful, because it was in front of other people,” Howell added.

In many cases, forensic evaluations at border clinics that document mental and physical abuse are also crucial to migrants’ asylum cases, because often no other evidence is available for court proceedings, Byimana said. Asylum is granted to those who cannot return to their countries for fear of persecution on specific grounds, including sometimes very high, systemic levels of violence against women.

But it takes years for asylum cases to be decided in U.S. immigration court, with a current backlog of more than 1.5 million people, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. And that’s with pandemic-era restrictions still in place that allow authorities to turn away or expel most asylum-seekers.

A long wait for resolution, coming on top of a long journey across multiple countries, can intensify the trauma that migrants experience, advocates say.

“There’s a different tension and fear in faces than I’ve seen before,” said Howell, who’s been researching trauma and forced migration for 15 years. “They don’t know how to stop running.”

—–

Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in El Paso contributed to this report.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Civil defense workers and security forces carry an earthquake victim as they search through the wre...
Associated Press

Live Updates | Turkey, Syria earthquake kills thousands

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Latest on the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of southeast Turkey and northern Syria, killing more than 3,400 people in the two countries. UNITED NATIONS — War-ravaged Syria is calling on the United Nations and all member states to help with rescue efforts, health services, shelter and food […]
17 hours ago
FILE - Logos the New York Stock Exchange adorn trading posts, on the floor, Wednesday, March 16, 20...
Associated Press

Google, Apple, Amazon give investors reason to fret

Wall Street had its eyes Friday on big tech after some of the biggest companies in the world posted lackluster quarterly financial performances.
17 hours ago
Spliff Star, left, and Busta Rhymes perform "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" at the 65th an...
Associated Press

Grammys Moments: A rap tribute for the ages, Beyoncé triumph

As he accepted an innovator's award named for him, Dr. Dre mused about what he had in common with many of the people he saw from the Grammy Awards stage.
17 hours ago
Residents stand around the bodies of persons who perished in recent landslides in Camana, Peru, Mon...
Associated Press

Steady rains set off mudslides that kill at least 36 in Peru

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Landslides triggered by steady rains swept mud, water and rocks into several villages in southern Peru, killing at least 36 people, authorities said Monday. Wilson Gutierrez, a civil defense official in the Mariano Nicolás Valcárcel municipality in Camana province, told local radio RPP that 36 bodies had been recovered in a […]
17 hours ago
FILE - Attorney Tom Girardi smiles outside the Los Angeles courthouse on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. D...
Associated Press

Disbarred lawyer Girardi pleads not guilty to client thefts

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Disbarred lawyer Tom Girardi had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf Monday on charges he embezzled millions of dollars from some of the massive settlements he won for clients during a once prominent career. Girardi, 83, is charged in Los Angeles federal court with wire fraud for allegedly stealing more […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

N. Korean leader orders military to improve war readiness

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered his military to expand its combat exercises and strengthen war preparedness as he looks to escalate an already provocative run in weapons demonstrations in the face of deepening tensions with its neighbors and Washington. Kim presided over a meeting of the ruling […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Migrant shelters try to help traumatized assault survivors