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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Arizona Researchers Explore the Public Health Impact of “Humanitarian Parole”

Since October 2013, the United States Customs and Border Patrol has apprehended more than 15,500 families in the southwest border region of the United States. Every day, migrating women and children from Mexico and Central America who qualify for humanitarian parole are released from immigration detention to Project Helping Hands (PHH), a humanitarian aid organization in Southern Arizona. Humanitarian parole is a discretionary authority used sparingly in situations to grant entry to individuals who would otherwise be inadmissible into the U.S. It is one of the temporary protection programs offered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After several days in detention facilities, these families arrive tired, hungry, dehydrated, and with minimal direction regarding their final destination, and adherence to the parameters of their parole. PHH utilizes a network of volunteers to provide the women and children with food, water, clothing, hygiene products, hospitality, and legal orientation.

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[Photo: Ms. Elizabeth Salerno Valdez (left), and Mr. Luis Valdez (middle), and Dr. Samantha Sabo]

To document the experiences of families granted humanitarian parole through the lens of structural vulnerability, doctoral students, Ms. Elizabeth Salerno Valdez, and Mr. Luis Valdez, and Dr. Samantha Sabo, assistant professor, from the department of health promotion sciences, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, conducted a qualitative investigation to elicit PHH lead volunteer perspectives regarding the migration experience of migrating families. Using inductive analysis, they found six major themes which emerged from the qualitative data: reasons for leaving, experience on the journey, dehumanization in detention, family separation, vulnerability, and resiliency. These findings elucidate the different physical and psychological distresses that migrating families from Mexico and Central America experience before, during and after their arrival at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The research team posits that these distresses are a result of, or exacerbated by, structural vulnerability. Structural vulnerability has life-long health implications for a sub-population of young mothers and their children. The number of migrating families who have experienced traumatic events before and during their migration experience continues to expand and thus warrants consideration of mental health surveillance and intervention efforts for these families. More public health research is needed to better understand and combat the health challenges of this growing population.

“Structural Vulnerability Among Migrating Women and Children Fleeing Central America and Mexico: The Public Health Impact of ‘Humanitarian Parole’”, was published online in the June 24 edition of Frontiers in Public Health.  The full article can be accessed at the following link: