Things That Matter

Doctors And Nurses Protested Outside CBP Office Demanding Flu Shots For Migrant Kids, Many Were Arrested

United States Customs and Border Protection would not allow a group of doctors access to provide flu vaccines to children in a San Diego detention center. At least three children, according to the Guardian, have recently died in immigration custody due to the flu. They were ages two, six, and 16. 

Just recently, the death of 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez garnered national attention when ProPublica uncovered surveillance footage that revealed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials did not appropriately tend to his flu symptoms. 

Groups like Doctors for Camp Closure, Families Belong Together, and Never Again Action participated in a protest and effort to provide children detained by CBP the vaccines. 

“We see this as medical negligence on the part of the US government,” said Dr Bonnie Arzuaga, co-founder of Doctors for Camp Closure, told the Guardian. “People are being held in close confinement and usually are under a lot of physical and emotional stress … and maybe malnourished and may not have access to hygiene supplies. That puts them at risk.”

Physicians were turned away at a Chula Vista border patrol station.

A group of licensed doctors went to the detention center to run a free flu clinic. CBP would not allow them in. The agents said it was not “feasible” to offer any migrants medical assistance.  

“More people will die without the vaccine,” Dr Hannah Janeway, an emergency medicine physician that was turned away told the Guardian. “There’s no doubt. They are being locked in cages in cold weather together, without any vaccination, in a year that is supposed to bring a horrible flu epidemic.”

Janeway also works with asylum seekers in Tijuana and believes the government has a moral obligation to provide vaccinations to children. 

 “Our government, who is creating these conditions and allowing them to persist, is basically saying some people’s lives are worth more than others, and it’s OK for children to die,” Janeway said. 

Doctors have repeatedly been turned down by CBP. 

Doctors have mobilized for over a month in an attempt to allow the US to vaccinate migrants. In November, they made a formal proposal to operate a free pilot clinic. CBP rejected the proposal alleging it is too logistically difficult to set up because of time constraints. 

“[Migrant detainees] should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours,” CBP spokesman Matthew Dyman told the Guardian in an email. “Every effort is made to hold detainees for the minimum amount of time required.”

Dyman asserted that the larger system in place provides adequate medical care to migrants who are in detention centers for the long-term. However, government records prove that both adults and children are often detained for longer than 72 hours, in crowded conditions — sometimes held for weeks without explanation. 

“It has never been a CBP practice to administer vaccines and this not a new policy,” an official statement from CBP said. “Individuals in CBP custody should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in either CBP hold rooms or holding facilities. As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short-term nature of CBP holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible.”

52 people protest in front of CBP facility demanding to be allowed to provide medical care. 

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, at least 52 people, largely licensed doctors and medical students, marched from Vista Terrace Neighborhood Park to the detention facility demanding to be let in or to let the children out to receive vaccines from a mobile clinic they set up. 

“We have the team here. We have the vaccines. It would not take 72 hours to do,” said Dr. Mario Mendoza, a retired anesthesiologist who was present. “What I can say is we are not leaving here until they let us enter. We are doctors. We are against death and we are for humanity.” 

Mendoza is an immigrant from El Salvador. He fled the dangerous country because his mother was an advocate for teacher’s rights — a noble cause that put her life in danger. 

“My heart hurts a lot for the immigrants that are here, both the adults and the children. I came here undocumented from El Salvador in 1981. We ran for 12 hours through the desert. We survived only by the grace of God and the strength of my mother,” said Mendoza. 

Doctors are arguing that it doesn’t matter how long migrants are detained, they should be entitled to life-saving services. Dr. Arzuaga believes that all CBP has to do is let them in. Others feel the fact that CBP won’t allow them to provide services is a testament of how they have dehumanized migrants altogether. 

“They are having difficulty prioritizing something like this, because they have so far dehumanized people. My question is, why not?” Danielle Deines, a neonatologist at the protest. “If you want to hold people in detention, you can provide people the basic flu vaccine … You’re saying death is acceptable to you, and that you don’t value human life.”

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