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Do undocumented immigrants present a true health hazard? A top state medical expert says no.

In the digital age, where we have near-instant access to information, sometimes it’s actually harder – not easier – to get to the unvarnished truth.

Such is the case with the growing migrant population passing through New Mexico as (members) seek asylum in the United States.

As a physician at a large public hospital, I have spent my entire career caring for people from all walks of life, regardless of insurance or resident status. We are trained to care for the people in front of us, as the migrants now are.

As deputy cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, I’ve been tasked with guiding the department’s efforts to assist in the growing volunteer efforts of our medical community to provide migrants passing through New Mexico basic medical attention.

A recent guest column in the Albuquerque Journal might have raised fears about the health of migrants as they reach our border.

Without facts, it’s natural for fear to take hold. The Department of Health, actively monitoring the situation, would like to set the record straight: The health issues of the incoming migrants are not dangerous to New Mexicans, despite what was written and what was apparently discussed at a recent political meeting in Deming.

These commentators have sought to make political hay out of a supposed low immunization rate among migrants entering New Mexico.

The truth is migrants arrived immunized. Many of their home countries have immunization rates comparable to New Mexico and the United States. The worst of the illnesses are identified and treated as people arrive at the border. Cases of communicable diseases are very rare. Those that exist are treated before they are ever released to our state’s churches and shelters.

Migrants currently arriving by bus in Albuquerque and Las Cruces do not arrive in our local shelters seriously ill, or with the sort of dangerous, infectious diseases that might frighten residents. They arrive tired, dehydrated and hungry. They are people who have literally walked hundreds of miles over a period of weeks without proper nutrition and hydration, and are treated for the health issues related to that.

In Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, the Department of Health is piloting a project where we are providing a mobile medical unit, a doctor’s office on wheels, where community partners from the local medical community, doctors, nurses, even medical students all are assessing migrants. Assessing their health at shelters further reduces medical visits to our health care systems in our communities.

Most migrants simply require over-the-counter medicines. Those that need antibiotics need them for minor infections considered common for folks who have made this sort of dangerous journey. They don’t leave to travel to their asylum sponsors without them.

As I said, in the digital age, it’s harder to get to the unvarnished truth; unfortunately, that makes it easier for rumors, fears and even political agendas to slide into the news. There can be disagreement about how we feel about what the federal government should and should not do with regard to legal immigration and asylum-seekers. But, in the end, public health isn’t about politics. It’s about people, and we at the Department of Health are about providing the safety net services needed in our state. We’re about protecting people, all the people, and we will continue to provide resources as needed for our medical community volunteers to ensure the health of migrant travelers as they begin their next chapter in America.

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