Middlebury physician recounts border trip to treat asylum seekers

Local News

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Linn Larson, a family practitioner at Middlebury Family Health, is no stranger to helping others.

Last year, she traveled to Peru and volunteered at a clinic to help prevent cervical cancer. This year, she used some of her vacation time to head to Tucson, Arizona, to help treat migrant families recently released from detention centers.

“I was there for two weeks straight so by the end I was pretty exhausted,” Larson said.

Working in a former monastery currently set up as a migrant center, she worked side-by-side with other volunteers and saw families transition from the poor conditions of detention centers to a much more welcoming environment.

“We always saw the people as they went from tired, hungry and sometimes ill to sort of blossoming after a few days,” Dr. Larson said. “We got to see them off on their journeys. Sometimes they were very frightened about the next step because they got comfortable with where they were.”

The trauma experienced by many of the migrants sent to Tucson made it difficult for Larson and the other volunteers to help them initially.

“They didn’t want to tell us if they were sick, because if that had been the case at any other point in their trip they might have gotten turned back or rejected,” Dr. Larson said.

But, she said, providing a warm welcome along with food and clothing made a big impact.

“They warmed up pretty quickly,” she said. “By that evening they were all eager to come to the clinic and have their aches and pains dealt with.”

Police kept the volunteers safe, and Larson said one officer even visited off-the-clock to check in on how they were doing.

Their volunteer efforts were sometimes met with resistance.

“There were demonstrations sometimes, and in retrospect, I never felt unsafe,” she said. “But now, in light of some of these mass shootings, it’s actually a personal risk to put yourself out there and help these people and that’s upsetting.”

Larson said she’s hoping to go on another volunteer trip soon. She’s made contacts in Tucson that could get her closer to the border or even into Mexico.

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