Migrants and asylum-seekers caught in the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration are the focus of growing concern over their potential exposure to the Covid-19 virus.
“If coronavirus gets in here, it’s going to be a massacre,” a Cuban asylum-seeker held in Louisiana told a Mother Jones reporter last week. “We’re all breathing the same air.”
Thousands of asylum seekers in towns near the Texas-Mexico border awaiting U.S. immigration hearings are at risk of dying from coronavirus because of poor health access and unsafe conditions, advocates say.
In Matamoros, where 2,000 migrants live in a sprawling outdoor camp sleeping in tents and sharing portable bathrooms and sinks, health advocates warned the coronavirus could spread rampantly. The camp is located across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Tx., reports USA Today.
Global Response Management, the nonprofit that operates the only health clinic in the camp, plans to erect a two-tent, 20-bed field hospital in the camp to house coronavirus patients if and when the virus arrives. “We are very concerned,” said director Helen Perry. “You have a vulnerable, displaced community in poor living conditions without access to health care, where food is communal and housing is communal. It’s a recipe for explosive infection and transmission.”
Migrants in the camp are part of the U.S. government’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, known as Remain in Mexico, where asylum-seekers to the U.S. are placed in seven Mexican border towns, from Matamoros to Tijuana, to await court hearings.
More than 60,000 immigrants have gone through the program since it launched in January 2019. The Customs and Border Protection agency said there are 25,000 migrants in the program.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review which oversees the migrants’ court hearings, is postponing all non-detained immigration hearings through April 10.
Unions representing immigration judges, agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and immigration attorneys called Monday for the temporary closure of all 68 immigration courts across the U.S. to protect immigration judges, attorneys and the ICE agents overseeing the courts.
On Monday, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Northwest Immigration Rights Project (NWIRP) sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees in a facility just outside of Seattle would be released if they were at “high-risk for serious illness” Mother Jones reported.
The suit specifically lists nine people by name being held at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center. These individuals are all older adults, or “have medical conditions that could make them vulnerable to COVID-19,” according to ACLU.
The ACLU also estimates that an additional 50 and 100 people could also be at high risk in the detention center.
“Immigrant detention centers are institutions that uniquely heighten the danger of disease transmission,” Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at ACLU’s National Prison Project, said in a press release, as quoted by Mother Jones.
“In normal circumstances, ICE has proven time and again that it is unable to protect the health and safety of detained people. These are not normal circumstances, and the heightened risk of serious harm to people in detention from COVID-19 is clear,” Cho said.
Last week, fueling the current lawsuit between the ACLU, NWIRP, and ICE, an alliance of immigrant rights groups and human rights organizations sent a letter to ICE requesting that the agency “immediately grant humanitarian parole to all vulnerable persons” held at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California due to COVID-19.
The group of 14 organizations has asked for a meeting with representatives from ICE and Adelanto Detention Facility “no later than March 19.”
The groups haven’t received a response from ICE.
The news of the lawsuit comes just after the Social Security Administration announced it will be closed for in-person services, including hearings, effective March 17. However, many immigration courts are still expected to remain open, begging the question by advocates, why are immigrants being seemingly ignored during this crisis VOX News detailed.
A Cuban asylum-seeker held in Louisiana spoke to a Mother Jones reporter last week, explaining, “If coronavirus gets in here, it’s going to be a massacre.”
“It’s going to be a massacre because everyone will get it at the same time…we’re all breathing the same air,” he said.
This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano