This Deported Nurse Is Now Helping Asylum Seekers at the Border—How Nurses Can Help.
By Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN
Talk of the US-Mexico border has filled the news over the past weeks with stories of asylum seekers, outrage over the separation of families, and calls to action from many who are hoping to help. One of those who has done more than “hope to help” is Francisco "Panchito" Olachea, a nurse from Nogales, Mexico.
Medical assistance at the border
Deported from the United States after living there for 30 years, working as a welder and caregiver for the elderly, Panchito decided to make it his personal mission to help the migrants of Nogales, just as he had been. Panchito told the news outlet Al Jazeera that his Christian faith compels him to help the migrants as they attempt to seek refuge in the United States. His conviction is so strong, that he works without pay. He spends all of his time as a volunteer nurse, driving a van he converted into a makeshift ambulance or walking with supplies in his backpack. This practice earned him the nickname “La Ambulancia Caminante” or The Walking Ambulance. To pay his bills, he also works 2 days a week as a police officer. The 57-year-old nurse is extraordinarily proud of his homemade ambulance, which he christened Cristina, after his daughter. “Panchito y su Cristina (Panchito and his Cristina),” he told the news outlet. “That's how people know me here."
Panchito and his Cristina spend their days around the Nogales, Mexico border along the United States. He assesses and treats the migrants and asylum seekers, some of them in shelters and some on foot in the city; which can be dangerous. Panchito has seen everything from children with throat infections to births in his van, to a 28-year-old single mother clutching death threats who fled from her home state of Guerrero with her two children. The notes, which she showed him, demanded money she did not have to avoid being murdered and the official reports she filed with the police, who did nothing. "I ran away because of my children," Al Jazeera reported.
How Nurses Can Help
We may not all be Panchito with his Cristina, willing to volunteer all of our time to help those in need at the border, but there are several ways that nurses can get involved in helping migrants and asylum seekers (with or without the homemade ambulance):
- Join a nursing waitlist to volunteer at the border. The Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), which sends nurses to help in stricken areas, is currently collecting nurses who are willing to be on standby for potential deployment to assist with healthcare assessment and services at Immigration Detention Centers. You can add your name to the standby list on National Nurses United.
- Donate to RNRN. If you aren’t in a place to physically deploy where help is needed, you can donate to support the work of the Registered Nurse Response Network and offer your financial assistance.
- Support shelters at the border. The Kino Border Initiative is a faith-based initiative solely focused on just, humane, and workable migration between the U.S. and Mexican border. You can donate to support their work, volunteer (volunteers will need a working level of Spanish) or take action by using the organization’s script to call your local Senator and Representatives to advocate on the behalf of migrants at the border.
- Get involved with InterAction. This global advocacy organization is based in Washington, D.C. and is currently raising funds to help pay some necessary repairs on Panchito’s van.
- Join the American Nurses Association. The ANA released a press statement calling for actions by nurses to assist in policies that support the well-being and health of immigrants, along with direct care at immigration ports and shelters.
- Take action as an asylum advocate. Asylum Access supports refugees across the world and offers a variety of volunteer and sponsorship opportunities. They have a high need for four Mexico cities near the border.
- Help separated children directly. Unaccompanied minors or children who have been separated from their families are displaced through the Office of Refugee Resettlement program, which has a network of facilities and other organizations to care for children across the nation. While the federal systems do not accept donations, you can search your state to find faith-based or other private organizations that accept donations for the children.
- Foster an unaccompanied child. If you are interested in fostering a migrant child in the United States, you can learn more here.
- Donate to 14 organizations that can help. One donation ActBlue to will be split evenly among 14 organizations that are working to assist children and unaccompanied minors.
As nurses, our natural inclination is to help those in need. Although it may feel overwhelming to know exactly how we can make a difference against such a large problem happening at the US-Mexican border, efforts like Panchito’s can help remind us that even the smallest actions can make all the difference. In the words of Panchito himself to Al Jazeera:
"You are not going to change the world, but you can at least change the moment."