Health clinic near border sees decline in immigrant patients due to deportation fears

A sign hanging in the lobby of Centro San Vicente says, "We Welcome Immigrants."

Local healthcare clinics are seeing a decline in undocumented patients in the Borderland. One clinic attributes the lower numbers to the changes at the White House.

Centro San Vicente in El Paso's Lower Valley is near the U.S./Mexico border. The clinic has a huge sign out front that reads "immigrants welcome," but the clinic says undocumented immigrants aren't visiting as much out of fear of deportation.

Dr. Christina Paz, a nurse practitioner and the chief operations officer at Centro San Vicente said the clinic has definitely seen a decline in patients. Paz said they were previously seeing a large increase in patients until the election of Donald Trump.

“We have seen a decline in patients. Every year, we're supposed to meet a certain amount of patients. We were increasing until our new federal administration changes. And we saw a steady decline in the amount of patients that were coming into our clinic. And unfortunately we do attribute it to a lot of the changes that the federal administration has made,” Paz said.

She said those changes struck fear in some El Paso families, then they saw a decline in patients.

"We have had some patients express the fact that they're not coming in because they're scared. We've had patients that will not get up when their names are being called because they're scared. We would like everybody to know that they're safe in our clinic," Paz said. "We are considered a sanctuary clinic. Nothing can happen to them here."

A "sanctuary clinic" means once a patient steps foot inside the clinic, the authorities can't come in and arrest them. That is why the sign was hung in the lobby, Paz said.

“In an effort to make our community feel more comfortable, especially because we're so close to the border, we wanted to make sure that our community knew that immigrants are welcome here,” Paz said. “So we've put a huge sign in front of the clinic that says, 'immigrants welcome.' We welcome everybody to this clinic.”

Oscar Montoya used to be undocumented himself, and he said he knows there's people in his community suffering.

"It's good that they have this place to turn to, but people will still be afraid to go,” sad Montoya, a Socorro resident..

Paz said families will avoid the doctor until they can't take it anymore.

“Sometimes when they come in they're really sick. So a lot of times it's really hard to recuperate them. But we do,” Paz said. “That's a lot what happens with our uninsured community anyways. I think the fear is costs that are involved.”

"People will self-medicate and self-diagnose to avoid going," Montoya said. "I hope if people really need medical attention that they'll reach out.”

Paz said the City of El Paso has unique obstacles.

“We do have different challenges compared to Middle America. We're sitting right here on the border.” Paz said. “Not only are we facing issues with the proposed wall. We're facing issues with DACA, which we have a lot of DACA recipients here."

Paz said there is plenty that citizens can do to help.

“We'd like for you to call your representatives, call your senators, and tell them how important the fiscal cliff is, that we need a long term fix, not just a continuing resolution,” Paz said. “And please come see us. We're here to help everybody.”

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