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Palm trees, sugarcane fields, Mexican restaurants, Colonias and nearly 315-mile of bordering territory with Mexico. The Rio Grande Valley is a region in South Texas with a distinctive blend of cultures, and this comes from someone born and raised at the far western tip of Texas, in the city of El Paso.

So trust me, COHI’s RGV Peace Through Health Delegation's scope and success is only possible by understanding what makes The Valley unique, including the specific barriers Americans and immigrants face accessing healthcare.

Over the course of the year, the flow of asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution in the Northern Triangle and the number of families caught entering the United States have plummeted. Earlier this year, COHI partner Sacred Heart Church and their welcoming center in McAllen, TX received up to 500 asylum seekers on a daily basis. This has drastically changed to only 25 daily arrivals throughout the month of July. The vast majority are pregnant women and men with children. Also a new development, female-only detention centers have been created to detain women, sometimes with kids, until they are either deported or granted asylum seeker status. 

Men crossing with their children and pregnant women are being released from detention with an ICE tracking device, strapped to their ankle so tightly that pants are often cut to minimally increase comfort. These men, women and children are left on their own, exposed to further medical complications after crossing into the U.S. illegally. During our most recent Peace Through Health Delegation, COHI volunteer nurse Monica Dyer was able to assist these families at the COHI clinic inside Sacred Heart’s center, and each individual was referred to medical care at their final destination for continued care.

With a daily influx of asylum seekers, the RGV has more than 3,000 Border Patrol agents monitoring the sector. But what about the people living in the area? Are their health needs taken care of? Not necessarily. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 40% of the entire RGV County’s population is uninsured. These individuals rely on a number of family health clinics including COHI ally HOPE Family Health Center.

HOPE’s safety net clinic provides care to the uninsured and those who have limited or no access to health services. HOPE is a strong ally to COHI as they share their knowledge on RGV health care needs. Thanks to them we got in touch with La Unión del Pueblo Entero to learn about their Health on Wheels program.

Health on Wheels seeks to end the challenges Colonia residents face when they try to access healthcare. Colonias are rural, unincorporated subdivisions and are among the most poverty-stricken communities in the U.S. Given their location outside city limits, most of these communities lack access to adequate infrastructure and services like running water and waste disposal. RGV Colonia residents face rampant chronic disease, a fertility rate twice the national average and poor prenatal care. Health on Wheels incorporates mobile clinics, as well as health talks and outreach events aimed to connect residents with local and affordable healthcare providers.

I believe COHI’s role in the RGV is one of lifting communities and improving peoples’ lives through healthcare. The RGV’s population faces a myriad of challenges accessing health services; asylum seeking families who are torn apart and denied to their right to health, a high percentage of uninsured population AND Colonia residents living in poor communities where access to health is a luxury.

I look forward to continuing serving the Rio Grande Valley with COHI and to working to ensure access to care regardless of nationality or legal status. #nobannowall

-Jennifer Camacho

COHI Fellow