Top Academics Join Forces to Tackle Health and Humanitarian Crisis at the Border

Jan. 21-22 inaugural summit to look at the inhumane conditions of migrants along the U.S.-Mexican border, and to propose policy solutions.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (January 16, 2020) — As public outcry heightens in response to reports of inhumane conditions faced by migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, a coalition of multidisciplinary leaders in academia are taking action. The Border Humanitarian Health Initiative (BHHI) led by the University of California (Berkeley, Davis, San Diego, and San Francisco), Stanford University, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Colegio de Mexico, will hold its inaugural summit in San Diego, CA, from January 21-22. During the invitation-only event, 70 experts across various sectors will chart concrete steps toward short-, medium- and long-term solutions to this humanitarian health crisis.

“Our main goal is urgently to respond to the humanitarian health crisis by reducing the health burden—including mental health– and protecting the human rights and dignity of migrant populations. We also need to address the root causes of the crisis in the longer term,” said Jaime Sepúlveda, executive director of the UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences, and co-organizer of the summit.

Many migrants, including children, face extortion, sexual violence, hunger, and inhumane conditions in detention, among other dangers, and the health consequences are significant. Additionally, the detrimental impacts are expected to last for many decades because childhood exposure to trauma has uniquely pernicious effects.

“As U.S. and Mexican policies have continued to shift in the last year, we’ve seen that the migration dynamics and humanitarian needs at the border have changed rapidly,” said Rafael Fernández de Castro, director of the U.C. San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies. “An effective response to the humanitarian emergency will require careful coordination across countries and sectors.”

Sepúlveda emphasizes, “academia has a moral imperative to make policy recommendations based on solid evidence to alleviate the humanitarian health crisis of migrants through their journey, so as to build a healthier model for migration in the region.”

This summit and the broader initiative draw on the capabilities of civil society and faith-based organizations, policymakers, legal and health professionals, the media, academics and the private sector to develop solutions grounded in evidence and built to last.

Topics to be discussed include:

  • Mental health and long-term trauma of migrants and asylum seekers;
  • Migration and its impacts on infectious disease;
  • A history of systemic violence and cruelty migrants have endured from cartels and immigration policies;
  • The Trump White House’s efforts to deter asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border;
  • Humanitarian services and healthcare for families and children. 

The initiative steering committee includes experts from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego, UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Stanford Health Policy, National Autonomous University of Mexico, El Colegio de México. The California Health Care Foundation provides funding for the BHHI summit and the initiative’s ongoing efforts.

There is an urgent need for a regional and multisectoral strategy to address the humanitarian health crisis taking place across the Americas. The widespread outcry at the U.S.-Mexico border has, unfortunately, not yet produced a collaborative effort among Central American, Mexican, and U.S. humanitarian health researchers, clinicians, lawyers, activists, policymakers, philanthropists, and other stakeholders to develop an appropriate actionable agenda. The Border Humanitarian Health Initiative (BHHI) seeks to close that gap.

Although academic institutions are just one stakeholder in this community, it is our duty to combine our existing resources and expertise to push for policy-level action on this issue. We aim to provide thought leadership and robust evidence to inform a response to the humanitarian health crisis. Learn more at