Message from the AAHN President
July 1, 2019

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  (The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776)

 As July 4th approaches, I have to say I am struggling to write this message. Does the United States still uphold these truths?  I’ve just finished reading Charles M. Blow’s opinion column in the New York Times and another by Riane Rolden in the Texas Tribune, describing the appalling conditions in the immigration detention camps. Babies, separated from family caregivers, have no diapers; fourteen-year-old children are caring for toddlers. And, according to the reports, there are no cribs or beds, no clean clothes, no toothbrushes, and no soap.1  Moreover six migrant children have died in U.S. custody.2 I am overwhelmed with a desire to DO something concrete to help these children instead of writing a column. In fact, I was ready to suggest that all AAHN members bring toothbrushes, soap, and diapers to our annual meeting so that we could “do something” as an Association, only to find out that Border agents will not accept these items, that the camps are all five to eight hours away from Dallas by car (making delivery of the items quite difficult), and just within the 24 hours (of this writing), the children have been moved from the facility. I have no doubt, however, that terrible conditions in the immigrant detention centers persist, and epidemics will follow. (A recent flu outbreak at the McAllan, Texas, facility sent five infants to the NICU, and a physician who visited described conditions as “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.”)3

I would have preferred to write that this type of treatment would never have happened in our nation’s past, but yes, our government has a history of detaining those whom it fears. For example, during World War II, the U.S. government interred Japanese American citizens in eleven camps throughout the country. Nonetheless, the contrast between the care provided in the Japanese Internment camps and that provided in the immigrant detention centers today is striking. However, appalling as it was that the government interred Japanese American citizens, one thing can be said: the government kept families together and provided basic shelter, hospitals, nurseries, and food. It also recruited Japanese American physicians, nurses, and aides to help government employed physicians and nurses care for the children.4

Analyzing historic government photographs depicting conditions in these camps certainly poses challenges: how much of this documentation was government propaganda? How much was truth?  I have examined many photographs from the Library of Congress taken during the Great Depression and the war years. Of those, many capture the realities of awful conditions in the makeshift migrant camps in California in the 1930s. Others, like the one below, depict better conditions, documenting babies wearing clean pajamas -- in cribs with clean sheets – and with a caregiver present. Unlike the recent photographs of the Border Patrol centers today, there are none documenting children living on the floors of cages, without sufficient clothing.

Courtesy: Library of Congress - “Nurse’s Aide at Manzanar, 1943”

All of this again leaves me frustrated with what actions we, as nurses and historians of nursing, can take. After researching what the American Nurses’ Association did in response, I found that they wrote a position statement, condemning the treatment of these migrant children.  Perhaps we can write another, supporting the ANA? I will discuss this possibility with the Board during our next conference call. I welcome your thoughts on this issue. (You can reach me at [email protected])

I can also recommend that we, together as an Association, or as individuals, contribute to such organizations as RAICES – based in Texas and providing legal aid to the immigrant children ( ), “Save the Children” (, or “Together Rising” (

I welcome any and all ideas for making history relevant to today’s issues. I would also like to thank Michelle Hehman for her contributions to this message.  Hope to see everyone in Dallas to continue our discussion.

Arlene W. Keeling PhD, RN, FAAN

1 Charles M. Blow, “Trump’s Concentration Camps,” The New York Times, June 23, 2019; see also: Riane Rolden, “Lawyer: Inside an immigrant detention center in South Texas, ‘basic hygiene just doesn’t exist,” The Texas Tribune, June 24, 2019


4 Arlene Keeling, Michelle Hehman, John Kirchgessner, History of Professional Nursing in the United States: Toward a Culture of Health, (Springer, 2018)