Just 40 minutes south of the San Diego Convention Center is the San Ysidro Port of Entry, a border crossing that separates San Diego and Tijuana. Asylum-seekers who have made it this far have endured so much trauma just to get to this point, and the struggle is far from over.

A Sunday town hall convened by APHA’s Maternal and Child Health Section explored the plight of people coming to the U.S. border and the challenges they face once getting to the other side. A panel of speakers with on-the-ground experience helping migrants underscored the need to help these vulnerable people seeking better lives for themselves and their families.

Speaker Mary Lehman, an attorney and medic who has helped on missions throughout the world, painted a sobering picture of the path to asylum. Migrants from the Northern Triangle region of Central America are escaping violence, gangs and corruption threatening their communities, she said. Forty percent of asylum-seekers are children and families, who are in great danger on the long journey to the U.S. border.

“What could appear more vulnerable than a family walking along the side of the road pushing a child in a stroller?” she told attendees at the Annual Meeting session.

And it doesn’t get much easier once people have applied for asylum at the border. There can be a long waiting period in a detention facility. So long, in fact, that some people waive their rights to asylum just so they can leave, Lehman said. The facilities are brutal: no windows, lights on 24-7 and so cold that migrants call them ice boxes. Being detained is particularly hard on children, and most develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sara Gurling, board president emeritus of the group Border Angels, explained that policies are forcing migrants to journey farther east, pushing them into more treacherous and rural terrain.

That migrant caravan you keep hearing about? They’re just people trying to survive. And, Gurling pointed out, these migrant routes aren’t some new development. Hateful rhetoric makes it seem as though migrants are to be feared, and it’s a harmful myth that Border Angels aims to dispel.

Those asylum-seekers who do make it to the U.S. also struggle to find their footing in a new country. Migrants can find wraparound services to support their health and wellness at La Maestra Community Health Centers, which offers culturally and linguistically competent health care. Three representatives of the organization spoke at the town hall about the services they provide, ranging from a mobile health clinic to legal advocacy.

In the midst of so much politicizing of migration, we can’t forget that we’re talking about real people who desperately need help getting to safety.

“Migration is a natural and beautiful part of the foundation of this country,” Gurling said. “The more that we demonize and create myths and fail to accept (migrants) instead of inviting them, history will castigate us.”