Things That Matter

A Group Of Doctors Offered To Provide Detained Migrants Free Flu Shots But The US Government Said No

The weather is growing colder, the days are growing shorter, and flu season has started to rear its ugly head. As usual, the government is encouraging anyone older than six months to get the vaccine, but one population is actually being denied flu shots.

Thousands of people are still detained at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities for undocumented entry, and so far, none of them have had access to the influenza vaccine.

Credit: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office / Flickr

A few months ago, CBP camps were dismally overcrowded—they are still seeing an average of 3,500 people in custody each day, but that number has decreased substantially from a daily average of 20,000 migrants earlier this year (from January through July, over 600,000 migrants were detained after attempting to cross the border). Nevertheless, the conditions of the CBP sites (cramped quarters, limited access to hygienic facilities, etc.) make a perfect breeding ground for viruses, yet CBP officials have claimed that it would be too difficult to implement a vaccine program within their current infrastructure, which includes a staff of more than 250 medical personnel.

“To try and layer a comprehensive vaccinations system on to that would be logistically very challenging for a number of reasons. There’s a system and process for implementing vaccines—for supply chains, for quality control, for documentation, for informed consent, for adverse reactions,” the CBP said in a statement. They also said that this policy has been in place for some time, largely due to the fact that their “typical” processing time of 72 hours doesn’t warrant the need for interventions like vaccination. Of course, most of the people being held at CBP facilities have been there much longer than three days.

On top of not vaccinating the thousands of people in their custody, CBP does not require their staff to get a flu shot—a policy that could not only perpetuate the virus in CBP facilities but could also put their own families at risk.

Credit: customsborder / Instagram

“CBP officers could be shedding the virus. You are adding a whole other layer to what is basic medical neglect,” said Dr. Bonnie Arzuaga, a pediatrician based in Boston who also founded Doctors for Camp Closure. “In every other institutionalized setting—hospitals, schools, long term healthcare facilities—staff are required to get the flu shot.” The influenza vaccine is essential in institutionalized settings because of its incredibly high contagion rate. According to the CDC, the flu is contagious up to 24 hours before someone develops symptoms and up to a week afterward.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University and a longtime adviser to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that this year, the flu has started early and is already wreaking havoc all over the country. Dr. Jennifer Shu, an Atlanta-based pediatrician, noted that many of her patients hadn’t even had a chance to get their flu shots before getting infected. “This year, I had children testing positive for the flu in early October,” said Shu. “We don’t usually see flu that early in the year.” So far, of the main circulating strains is Influenza B, which has a propensity to hit children especially hard.

As many as 61,200 adults and 143 children died from complications of the flu illness in the 2018-2019 flu season. Three of those children died of the flu while in CBP custody.

Credit: customsborder / Instagram

To combat CBP’s negligence and prevent further deaths of the individuals in their care, Arzuaga’s Doctors for Camp Closure volunteered to provide free vaccinations to people in CBP’s care. The group formed in August of this year and is comprised of around 2,000 physician members, many of whom signed a letter to federal officials offering this vaccination service. The physicians stated that they initially planned to vaccinate 100 migrants, ultimately hoping to vaccinate the majority of the people currently detained.

The doctors with Doctors for Camp Closure confirmed that of 200,000 children in federal custody last year, the three deaths mentioned above, which were attributed to complications from influenza, are nine times higher than the expected child death rate from the flu. “In our professional medical opinion, this alarming mortality rate constitutes an emergency which threatens the safety of human lives, particularly children,” says the Doctors for Camp Closure letter.

The CBP ultimately dismissed this letter and the physicians’ offer to administer free vaccines. Kelly Cahalan, CBP spokesperson, told The Post that her agency has never provided immunizations for detained migrants and has no plans to do so. And a representative told CNN, “We haven’t responded [to the letter], but it’s not likely to happen.”

READ: Three Migrants Kids Died Of Flu-Related Illness, Now The Trump Administration Is Refusing To Administer The Vaccine

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Things That Matter

Border Patrol Agents Threw Away Meaningful Items Belonging To Migrants, Now There’s An Art Show Displaying Dozens Of Items

Tomkiefer.photographe / Instagram

Photographer Tom Kiefer worked as a custodian at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Southern Arizona from 2003 to 2014. When migrants and asylum seekers crossed the Southern border officials would throw away their belongings, medications, and nonessentials during processing. Kiefer collected all of those belongs, arranged them systematically, and photographed them.

The photos will be displayed in the exhibition “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. 

The result is eye-catching and colorful art that, upon closer inspection, reveals the rich inner lives of migrants. Kiefer’s photographs of the CDs they were listening to, the medications they were on, and even diary entries provide insight into the almost ordinariness of migrants. These were just people carrying things that meant something to them the way anyone else going somewhere would. Then the U.S. government deemed those personal and sentimental items trash. 

What Kiefer provides is a rarely seen snapshot of what migrants cared about when they came to the United States looking for a better shot. 

Kiefer was documenting American history through his lens and labor. 

“It was my way of documenting a piece of our nation’s history,” Kiefer told the Washington Post

In one of his haunting photos, there are 32 CDs lined up. Some CDs are from artists like Trapt but others are mixed CDs with intimate labels like “Brown Pride” or “Super Sappy Songs for Issa 2.” The image reminds the viewer that these migrants were real people — and we don’t know who any of them are and because of the United States’ ever-changing immigration policies, we don’t know if they’re even OK. 

Kiefer began to find the belongings when he asked if he could donate the canned goods that Border Patrol authorities seized to food pantries. He went through the trash bins to look for the nonperishables, but what he found instead was a wealth of humanity. 

“The Bibles, the rosaries, the family photographs. I was shocked,” he said. “And I didn’t know what to do, because it was obviously being condoned.”

Kiefer knew he would get into trouble if he took other items so everything he gathered was by intuition. Altogether in his years working there he collected 100,000 items. 

“I had to do it all very quick, discreet,” he said. “It was just rapid-fire, split-second decisions about what I could keep and what had to go in the trash, stay in the trash.”

Throwing away migrants’ possessions is particularly cruel, Kiefer feels.

 “[It] underscores the cruelty of the tentative punishment that the government feels the need to levy against these people. It’s clear the majority of which are decent, contributing and who want nothing more than a better life for themselves or for their family,” he told the Los Angeles TimesWhen Kiefer first began going through the trash looking for cans, he found mostly toothbrushes. However, when things appeared to be more personal like religious items and diaries, he felt compelled to save them because, he says, “no one would believe me if I had not collected these items.” He purposefully used colorful backgrounds to humanize the items. He didn’t want a cold, white background that would make things look sterile, more like products than personal items. 
“[The photos are] like a knife to the gut, and that’s precisely something that I think gives this work its power — that it draws you in with its beauty and then it has this really profoundly sad backstory,” Laura Mart, Skirball curator, told the Los Angeles Times.

He hopes the legacy of his exhibition is empathy above all else. 

“Dora the Explorer. A personal belonging carried by a migrant or someone seeking asylum. When apprehended by USCBP while crossing the desert most personal belongings considered non-essential or potentially lethal are confiscated and discarded,” Kiefer wrote in a caption of a children’s Dora the Explorer purse. 

Things like children’s toys, backpacks, and clothing items are enough to infuriate and sadden just about anybody.

“Whether it’s an individual object, shoelaces, I present them in a way that I hope the viewer can not just identify, but just kind of be empathetic, or put themselves in the person or persons’ shoes: ‘Wow, a person carried that.’ ‘That’s the same cologne I use, the same toothbrush or toothpaste,” Kiefer said. 

While he was a custodian during the Obama administration, Kiefer says he didn’t witness the abuses of powers reported under the current president. Kiefer personally condemns the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and hopes his exhibition will change some peoples’ stances. 

“Is this the nation we want to be?” He said. “The way things are now is not sustainable.”

Another Member Of The US Military Has Been Arrested For Smuggling Undocumented People Across The Border

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Another Member Of The US Military Has Been Arrested For Smuggling Undocumented People Across The Border

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The U.S. military is going through a serious rough patch. Not only are they have issues recruiting new service members, but they’re also having problems retaining mental health workers, which is a really big deal because they help the people already inlisted. Now we’re seeing the ramifications of that.  Just this week a U.S. Navy sailor shot and killed two people at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor military installation. The Navy sailor went on to kill himself. It all happened in the same week as the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which the celebration is supposed to take place this Saturday. The issues the military is facing is not combatting depression and other mental health problems within their units, but some ethical ones that go completely against what the country stands for. 

On December 2, U.S. marine was charged for smuggling undocumented people across the border near San Diego, California.

Credit: Unsplash

“On December 2, 2019, at approximately 1:30 a.m., a junior-enlisted Marine with Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel for allegedly bringing in undocumented immigrants at the San Ysidro port of entry,” the Marine Corps said in a statement, according to ABC News. “The Marine is currently being held in civilian custody. The determination as to the adjudicating authority has not yet been made.”

The 20-year-old Marine has not been publically named, but the news station adds that they were not part of the “Trump administration’s southwest border support mission.”

Credit: Unsplash

Additional reports say the Marine was pulled over in a 2007 Ford Mustang for “additional screening.” That is when border officials found two Chinese women in his trunk. 

“The Marine is currently being held in civilian custody,” Marine spokesman Lt. Cameron Edinburgh said in a statement to Fox News. “The determination as to the adjudicating authority has not yet been made.”

This latest charge comes on the heels of a slew of other military officials who have also arrested on similar smuggling charges.

Credit: Unsplash

Just this summer, 19 Marines were arrested for various offenses. ABC News reports that the Marines were allegedly involved “in activities ranging from human smuggling to drug-related offenses.” All of the Marines involved in this case were stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. The number of marines involved in this case gradually increased from 16 to 19.

“1st Marine Division is committed to justice and the rule of law, and we will continue to fully cooperate with NCIS on this matter,” the statement said, according to the network. “Any Marines found to be in connection with these alleged activities will be questioned and handled accordingly with respect to due process.”

According to Stripes.com, the Marines were all arrested in front of their peers during their morning formation and that was done purposely to make an example out of them. 

“It was a public display for the entire unit to see,” 1st Marine Division Spokesman 1st Lt. Cameron Edinburgh told the online news site. 

As for the reason to not disclose the names of the Marines arrested, Marine Maj. Kendra Motz said that is because “Out of respect for the privacy of the implicated Marines,” and added, “we will not release names or other identifying information until charges are announced.” Six out of those marines arrested have already pleaded guilty to human trafficking and drug charges. 

In related news, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that detainments at the border continue to decrease.

Credit: Unsplash

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan said last month that in October, the trend of a decline of detainments at the border continues to show a decline. 

“The numbers show this administration has and continues to take bold action to address this crisis,” Morgan said, according to The Texan news. 

In May, however, it was a whole different story.  Back then, border officials said they saw 144,000 detainments in one month alone. From then until October, there has been a 70 percent. 

It’s certainly an odd predicament that the government and the military are facing because on the one hand detainments at the border are going down, which speaks positively of their security tactics. Yet, on the other hand, their own military workforce looks to be in quite the dilemma going against their own principals. 

READ: CBP Arrests A 16-Year-Old After Catching Them Using A Remote Control Car To Smuggling Drugs Across The Border