How a Phoenix Neo-Nazi March Led to Free Health Care for Immigrants

Robert Haach
Still image from Health Undocumented, showing an anti-immigrant demonstration in Phoenix.
Neo-Nazis who marched in Phoenix during November 2010 might be surprised to learn their hate-filled rally inspired a health care clinic for immigrants.  And that the people who counter-protested that day continue to care for the very people the extremists hoped to drive out of town.

Several of those counter-protesters, including a nurse named Jason Odhner, are featured in a new film that recounts the journey from neo-Nazi rally to community clinic. Odhner helped found Phoenix Allies for Community Health, the free clinic that traces its roots to that November 13 march.

Now, he’s gearing up for the Phoenix premiere of Health Undocumented, the documentary film directed by Juan Freitez. It’s happening at Harkins Theatres Christown 14 tonight, Thursday, May 16, and Odhner will be part of a panel after the screening.

click to enlarge Amy McMullen and Jason Odhner at the PACH clinic. - JUAN FREITEZ/HEALTH UNDOCUMENTED
Amy McMullen and Jason Odhner at the PACH clinic.
Juan Freitez/Health Undocumented
Odhner has strong memories of the hate-filled rally, and the counter-protesters. He was there that day with fellow street medics who had formed the Phoenix Urban Health Collective in 2009. “Our job was to patch people up when they got sprayed with tear gas or attacked,” he recalls.

But it didn’t end there, because people who needed medical care kept reaching out to ask for help. “We started getting calls from community members with more complex needs, like needing follow-up care after getting out of the hospital,” Odhner says.

“We set up a really informal underground network, and started making home visits,” he says. Soon, the street medics decided they needed something with more infrastructure, so they started doing health fairs. “That’s when we realized that there weren’t any places we could refer people for follow-up care.”

They solved that problem by creating their own health clinic, with help from Bob and Amy McMullen, a pair of counter-protesters at the November 2010 rally. The McMullens bought a former drug house near Roosevelt and 16th streets. Then fellow activists, including patients and their families, spent about a year transforming the house into the first Phoenix Allies for Community Health clinic.

They served about 15 people at first, but quickly outgrew the small space. Today, they’re located near West Clarendon and 28th avenues, where an all-volunteer team works to improve health outcomes for marginalized low-income communities. Many of their patients are immigrants who can’t get health care in other settings.

click to enlarge Health Undocumented director Juan Freitez. - LEIGH BOWIE/HEALTH UNDOCUMENTED
Health Undocumented director Juan Freitez.
Leigh Bowie/Health Undocumented
Health Undocumented explores the intersection of activism, immigrant rights, and health care in Phoenix. It’s the brainchild of first-time filmmaker Juan Freitez, who immigrated from Venezuela to the United States in 2000. “I was 23 and my dream was to study film,” he says.

Now, he marvels at the way a neo-Nazi rally in Phoenix led to a film highlighting the resilience of local immigrants. “To me, this is the most amazing backlash ever,” Freitez says.

The film is especially well-timed, given Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. But it’s the shadow of former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio that looms largest for Odhner. “We came up through the immigrant rights movement against Arpaio and SB 1070, and we’re unapologetic about that lineage,” Odhner says.

Odhner traces a direct line from Arpaio to Trump. “It feels like Maricopa County politics has become nationalized,” he says. “Trump is not so different a person from Arpaio.”

He’s hoping the film will prompt community conversations, and inspire others to get more involved. “We can build a more just society,” Odhner says. “It just takes staying power, stubbornness, and a refusal to accept the system that’s been passed down to us.”

Health Undocumented. Thursday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. Harkins Theatres Christown 14, 1620 West Montebello Avenue. Tickets are $15 via facebook.com/healthundocumented.