Health Crisis on the Northern Mexico Border


A Population in Peril: A Health Crisis among Asylum Seekers on the Northern Border of Mexico

A summary of findings and an urgent call to action

The Harvard Global Health Institute, Boston College School of Social Work and partners launched the Report, ‘A Population in Peril: A Health Crisis among Asylum Seekers on the Northern Border of Mexico‘ on July 28th, 2020 at the Webinar ‘The Health Crisis on the Northern Mexico Border: Cross-Border Implications of U.S Immigration Policies Before and During COVID-19.’

This report explores the relationship between insufficient housing, basic sanitation and healthcare, and the high prevalence of violence and disease among asylum seekers and migrants on the northern Mexico Border. It demonstrates how harsh U.S policies that force thousands of asylum seekers and migrants to wait indefinitely on the border, and an inadequate response to meet their basic needs by the Government of Mexico, created the crisis and are fueling it. By collating publicly available information, the report provides a window into the burden of disease among this population, the factors contributing to it and what needs to be done to address it. 


The Health Crisis on the Northern Mexico Border: Cross-Border Implications of U.S. Immigration Policies

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020 | 10 AM – 11:30 AM ET

There is a growing public health crisis at the northern Mexico border. Immigration policies instituted both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic have directly put asylum seekers and migrants at risk for poor health outcomes. As outbreaks of COVID-19 spread in communities and shelters where asylum seekers and migrants live; the key tenets to infection prevention are nearly impossible to adhere to. Worse so, healthcare services have been drastically scaled back, leaving minimal resources to care for this high-risk population.

This webinar brings together experts in immigration policy and public health to discuss the growing health crisis on the border. Panelists will discuss the most pressing health needs of this population; how policies and practices in the U.S. and Mexico are exacerbating health risks of migrants; and what action is needed to protect them. Each panelist brings a unique perspective, and will add context to the challenges facing asylum seekers, as well as those who care for them, during this global crisis.

Hay una creciente crisis de salud pública en la frontera norte de México. Las políticas de inmigración instituidas antes y durante la pandemia del COVID-19 han puesto directamente en riesgo la salud de los solicitantes de asilo y los migrantes. A medida que los brotes de COVID-19 se propagan en comunidades locales y albergues donde viven solicitantes de asilo y migrantes, los principios básicos para la prevención de infecciones son casi imposibles de cumplir. Peor aún, los servicios de salud se han reducido drámaticamente, dejando recursos mínimos para atender a esta población en alto riesgo de vulnerbilidad.

Este seminario en línea reúne a expertos en políticas de inmigración y salud pública para analizar la creciente crisis de salud en la frontera. Los panelistas discutirán las necesidades de salud más apremiantes para solictantes de asilo y migrantes; el incremento de los riesgos en salud generado por las politicas de inmigración y su aplicación en México y Estados Unidos;  así como las acciones necesarias para proteger a esta población.  Cada panelista aporta una perspectiva única al análisis del contexto y desafíos que enfrentan tanto los solicitantes de asilo, como actores que proveen ayuda humanitaria, durante esta crisis global.



Olga Byrne
Director of Immigration
International Rescue Committee

Report Launch

Megan Diamond
Assistant Director of Programs and Innovation
Harvard Global Health Institute


Dr. Alejandro Olayo-Méndez
Assistant Professor
Boston College School of Social Work

Joanna Williams
Director of Education and Advocacy
Kino Border Initiative

Dr. Thalia Porteny
Postdoctoral Fellow
REACH Lab, Tufts University

Eunice Rendon
Executive Director, Agenda Migrante
International Consultant on Security and Migration


Jacqueline Bhabha
Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Closing Remarks

Suggested Reading

Previous Events

Responding to Health Needs on the Border: Identifying Priorities –  Stakeholder Meeting, November 2019

In November 2019, policymakers, experts, and frontline workers came together for a Stakeholder Meeting on the public health crisis on the northern Mexico border. The goal of the meeting was to identify and prioritize the most pressing needs and develop action steps to addressing them. Key takeaways included the need for aggregated information on the major health challenges and obstacles to care for this population; and facilitated dialogue between the organizations on the ground providing care, with the goal to better identify practical interventions and align priorities. The meeting followed an event hosted by The Harvard Global Health Institute, in collaboration with The Woodrow Wilson Center, Boston College School of Social Work, The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and Harvard University Mexican Association of Students. 

Participants in the November 8th meeting included:

  • Adolfo Flores, National Security Correspondent for Immigration, Buzzfeed News
  • Julie Qashu, Emergency Medicine Nurse, Volunteer
  • Alejandro Olayo-Mendez, Assistant Professor, Boston College School of Social Work
  • Father Javier Calvillo, Director, Casa Del Migrante
  • Eunice Rendón, Representative, Chicanos por la Causa
  • Kiryn Lanning, Senior Technical Advisor for Emergencies, Violence Prevention & Response, International Rescue Committee
  • Thalia Porteny, Postdoctoral Fellow, REACH Lab, Tufts University
  • Rachel Schmidtke, Former Program Associate, Migration, Mexico Institute
  • Stefanie Friedhoff, Director of Content and Strategy, Harvard Global Health Institute
  • Megan Diamond, Assistant Director of Programs & Innovation, Harvard Global Health Institute
  • Luke Testa, Program Assistant, Harvard Global Health Institute

Public Health Crisis at the Border: The Mexican Perspective – November 2019

The Trump Administration’s new ‘remain in Mexico’ policy is causing an influx of migrants waiting on the Mexican side of the border. By the time they reach the border, many migrants are traumatized, have untreated chronic diseases and are in need of medical treatment.  In response to this dynamic situation, The Harvard Global Health Institute, The Woodrow Wilson Center, Boston College School of Social Work, The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and Harvard University Mexican Association of Students, will convene key policymakers, experts and frontline workers to discuss the current conditions on the border, extrapolate applicable lessons learned from other crises, and identify approaches to ensuring basic health coverage for this vulnerable population.  

The Public Health Crisis on the U.S. Border: An Urgent Conversation – July 2019

The public health crisis on the U.S Border is escalating. Children are being held in squalid conditions; abuse is rampant and people are dying due to inadequate health services. In response to this dire situation, the Harvard Global Health Institute convened a multi-disciplinary panel of front-line responders and experts to provide a health perspective on the situation. Attended by over 200 members of the Harvard community, together we identified action steps to mitigate the suffering of people caught in the crosshairs of demographic shifts, violence, and political posturing.