18 • JULY 2018
BORDERLINES • MARJORIE LILLY
Ride for Life
Ambulance service crosses border
Corner Florida & Columbus Hwy. PO Box 191, Deming NM 88031 (575) 546-3922
DEMING ART CENTER 100 South Gold, Deming, NM Mon thru Sat 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Exhibit for July: Sri-Fi and Fantasy Reception: July 1, 2018 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm Book singing during reception: Roxana Gillett will be signing her new book "The White Elephant Kneels" Show Duration: June 30, 2018 through July 30, 2018 Free Children's Art Class July 7, 2018 - 10:00 am to 12:00 pm Please call to resister before the class. 575-546-3663
Deming Arts Center, 100 S Gold St, Deming NM 88030
575-546-3663 Check us out on Facebook
This project is supported in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs
or decades, humanitarian-minded individuals in Columbus, New Mexico, with the town ambulances, have helped sick or injured people from nearby Palomas, Mexico, go to the Mimbres Hospital in Deming. There was no medical clinic in Palomas until about eight years ago. In 2010, this informal arrangement was formalized in a written agreement. “An agreement was worked out between the Chihuahua Secretary of Health and the New Mexico Department of Health,” says the white-haired Ken Riley, Emergency Medical Services Coordinator, who’s lived in Columbus for 24 years. There were several other organizations that signed the agreement, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (who work at the Port of Entry), the Mimbres Hospital in Deming, and the Mexican Section of the US-Mexico Border Health Association. It was a formal act to establish protocol for the transference of people in Palomas to Deming or to a hospital in Mexico. Riley is paid full-time, and there are seven other volunteers who work in the big corrugated-metal building in Columbus used as the Fire Department also. There the volunteers sometimes sit watching television while waiting for calls. They get paid per the number of runs they take. “The patient would need a note from the Centro de Salud,” says Riley. Having someone at the Centro assess the case is the first step in the protocol. The Centro’s on the east side of Palomas and is staffed with a “certified medical doctor as director and from two to three pasantes (physicians doing their community service requirements),” the agreement states. If a patient in Palomas is headed for Deming, they will be processed for “humanitarian parole” at the Port of Entry. This is the term used by U.S. Customs for letting someone cross the border if they don’t have passports when they have a humanitarian need. Any sick or injured person can be brought across no matter what their legal status is. If the treatment takes less than a day, the patient can return with a Columbus EMS. After that a friend, relative, or taxi can take him/her back to Palomas. The limit for the stay is four days, Riley said.
The Centro de Salud The director of the Centro de Salud is Lina Carrasco, a Sinaloa native. She or someone at the Centro decides whether the patient(s) should be treated at the Centro de Salud or go to Nuevo Casas Grandes (about two and a half hours away) or Juarez (90 minutes away). If the case is severe and urgent, they may
Ambulance driver Ken Riley with one of the Columbus, New Mexico, emergency vehicles. (Photo by Marjorie Lilly)
be brought to Deming (45 minutes away). Ascension, a town of 14,000 an hour south of Palomas, has only one small clinic. Carrasco says that, on average, 10 to 15 patients per month are sent to Nuevo Casas Grandes, the same number to Juarez, and only about five to Deming. The issue of having babies in the United States so they can get U.S. citizenship is still a live one. When the Centro was built, the number of women who had babies in Deming went way down at first because more women were having babies at the clinica. But that number has gone up and down since then. “It depends on how many people Customs lets through to the U.S.,” she said. There are some pregnant women who come, surprisingly, from Tijuana, Nuevo Casas Grandes, the city of Chihuahua, or even Guadalajara, to try to give birth on the U.S. side of the border.
The ambulance and the Border Patrol Columbus is an interesting town. There’s a core of mostly Anglo people who are very service-oriented and liberal. In a town of 1,623, they work to maintain a community kitchen, a library, a senior center, a shaded park, and community gardens, as well as a fire department and ambulance service. But they live quite apart from the poor Mexicans, separated by education and language. The ambulance service has gotten support throughout the years. But not everyone in the area is supportive. “There are people in town who hate it with a passion,” Riley said. “These … people also hate the program that brings kids from Palomas who are U.S. citizens to go to schools in Luna County. One guy scares me. This man loves guns and could use them some day.” There was a period when the ambulance volunteers encountered increased stops by the Border Patrol which began somewhere near a decade ago after a couple men who’d been volunteers for the Fire Department were found transporting unauthorized immigrants one night.
These men are in prison now. “From then on, they (the Border Patrol) thought we had (unauthorized immigrants) in our ambulance,” Riley said. But they never actually had any unauthorized immigrants. “This went on for a long time,” he said. “They even followed us to a gas station in Deming sometimes. Once we even found tracking devices under our car. There was one on each side of the ambulance to track us for smuggling (unauthorized immigrants).” There were times when the Border Patrol would insist on letting their dogs into the ambulance to sniff it out. This would enrage Riley, who usually doesn’t hide his feelings. For Riley, the delays stopped a few years ago, but at least one volunteer believes the Border Patrol still watches them.
Cost of a ride The cost of ambulance use is a serious issue. “We charged $300,000 last year for services, and only make $100,000,” Riley said. “The town just makes up the difference with real estate taxes or whatever. People are charged $700 for using the ambulance but $200 is what we usually get paid. Sixty percent of the U.S. people pay this, but only 20 percent of Palomas people do. “Some people have just $2 in their pocket when they need to go to Casas Grandes or wherever. So they just go home instead of to a hospital. But later on, they’ll have a more serious physical problem to deal with.”
Binational place The ambulance agreement has been embedded in the binational culture of Columbus for so long, those involved wouldn’t give it up without a fight, no matter how controversial it may be. They are people lending a hand to residents of Palomas who are often inconceivably poor and in a state of crisis. I hope this program is appreciated enough to get the support it needs. Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.