NEW ORLEANS — A clinic on the edge of the South 7th Ward in New Orleans has found itself on the front lines of the immigration crisis.
One day earlier this month, pediatrician Kim Mukerjee’s first appointment of the day was a six-month-old with a loud, raspy cough. The baby, Ángel, and his mother, Miriam, traveled from Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border and had only been in the U.S. for two weeks. When they got out of “la hielera” — a common nickname for the notoriously cold temporary detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection — they made their way to New Orleans. Mukerjee found that Ángel had contracted pneumonia.
Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Mukerjee and Case Manager Miguel Alonso form a two-person team that sees 10 to 12 children each day at the New Orleans Children’s Health Project. The clinic was originally designed to serve the local community in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Now, all of their patients are immigrants. Less than 10% of their patients have access to health insurance, and most families cannot pay much out of pocket. To keep their doors open two days a week, their team relies on a partnership between Tulane University, Crescent Care, and the Children’s Health Fund.
“Five years ago when I first started seeing these kids, I would see one new child, meaning new to the country, new to our practice, once every couple of months,” Mukerjee said. “Now, they're every single clinic day. They are increasing in frequency to the extent that we cannot keep up. We are seeing children with chronic and complex medical conditions who are arriving to a state like Louisiana, where they have no immediate access to health insurance.”
Louisiana ranks 11th among the 50 states for incoming unaccompanied minors, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The New Orleans Children’s Health Project reported a 158% increase in new cases this year and an average wait time for new patients of four months.
VICE News traveled to New Orleans to meet the clinic team and their patients.
This segment originally aired August 22, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.