At the US-Mexico border, I helped refugees heal from the unimaginable

Roxette Villegas shares how union nurses are uniquely qualified to take action and address the immigration crisis


As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I have a unique understanding and appreciation for a family’s choice to leave their home and come to the United States. Such families risk everything to escape their country’s corruption and injustice and build a better life in a country that promises equal opportunity for all people. Unfortunately, the current political climate does little to uphold America’s values of liberty and justice for all.  As a nurse, I’m proud  to care for people in need—no matter their race, religion, gender, age or background.

Late last year, my union, SEIU 721, issued a call to action for nurses, social workers, and other healthcare professionals to travel from San Diego, Calif., to Tijuana, Mexico, and provide aid to the thousands of asylum seekers who had been stranded for months on the border without medical care. More than 150 union members, including myself, answered the call. 

Our “Care-a-Van” arrived in Tijuana, Mexico not knowing what to expect. What we saw broke our hearts. Hundreds of men, women, and children waited behind fences erected under large canopies for the next step in their journeys to the United States—whatever that was. They stood there—hungry, thirsty, and exhausted and in desperate need of basic supplies and medical care, unsure of their fates.

We jumped into action to comfort and help the refugees heal from the unimaginable. We did what we could with the time we had.

 

When I returned home to Los Angeles after my first trip to Tijuana, I struggled to believe I had made an impact at all. At the border, we saw patients for mere minutes—just enough time to bandage a wound, check vitals, or offer medication. How could that be enough? After several more aid trips, I realized the basic care that seemed so insignificant to me—a privileged U.S. citizen—was monumental to the immigrant families I met at the border. 

Immigrant communities are foundations of the American economy—and so are strong unions. As union members, we are uniquely qualified to take action and address injustices, and the current immigration crisis is no exception. Immigrant families are welcome in this country and should be free to prosper. My union is committed to creating a clear path to safety and citizenship for immigrants. Will you join us?

Roxette Villegas is a burn unit RN at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center and an SEIU Local 721 member.

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