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Doctors March On Border Patrol, Demanding It Vaccinates Detainees

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A group of doctors from across the country is spending the week in San Diego demanding they be allowed to vaccinate detained migrants against flu.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Medical professionals from the group. Doctors for camp closure held a March in vigil this morning at the port of entry in sannyasi DRO to demand customs and border protection changed their policy of not allowing migrants in custody access to the flu vaccine.

Speaker 2: 00:21 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:21 yesterday, several members of the group were arrested after blocking the entry into the border patrol headquarters in Chula Vista. KPBS reporter max Rivlin Adler was at the protest yesterday and joins us now. Max. Welcome. Hi. So what can you tell us about this group? Doctors for camp closure, it's a group of over 2000 doctors that was formed over the past year that rallies for better health care for detained migrants and ultimately the closing of border detention facilities and the protests were prompted by the death of three migrant children in border patrol custody. What do we know about these three cases? So these three cases were in Texas and New Mexico, so none of them were in California. But they include 16 year old Carlos Hernandez Vasquez and eight year old Philippe Gomez Alonzo. These are kids who caught the flu either before their time and border detention centers or while they were there and died as a result.

Speaker 1: 01:17 Uh, according to, uh, medical examiners reports afterwards and in the case of 16 year old Carlos Vasquez, video footage of his time in border patrol custody, uh, was released last week. Tell us about that. A nurse practitioner actually caught that he had a flu and a 103 degree fever and said to border patrol agents, Hey, you should be monitoring this kid. If it gets worse or his condition worsens, then you'll need to take him to a emergency room. As video that was released by ProPublica last week showed his condition visibly worsened over the next several hours after his initial inspection and he was ignored by border patrol agents as he lay on the floor dying. It's really disturbing video to watch and that video actually only came to light after a freedom of information act request to the local law enforcement in the, in the area because border patrol had not released it themselves.

Speaker 1: 02:12 How has border patrol responded to the protest by doctors? For cam closure. Border patrol has said it basically is not going to let any individual just come up to the Gates of a border patrol facility and, and start poking kids with needles. That's how they put it. They call them radical activists. They derided them on Twitter. So you know, their, their response has been pretty firm. You can't just show up and vaccinate kids. So what is the current policy of the border patrol in terms of vaccinations? So their current policy is that it has never been CBP practice to administer vaccines. Uh, and that, that that's not a new policy under the Trump administration, right? So border patrol really only tries to hold on to individuals for as long as 72 hours. They, they're usually either parole people into the U S transfer them to ice custody, put them into a a if they're an unaccompanied child, put them into a shelter.

Speaker 1: 03:06 That's for specifically those individuals will, they'll have access to better healthcare. They really view themselves as a very temporary solution, uh, for holding people. What we've seen over the past a year and past two years at this point has been just because of the amount of people crossing the border and the backlog of processing these individuals. People have been staying for weeks at these border patrol facilities as these illnesses run rampant. And you spoke to a local member of doctors for camp closure who said the facilities where migrants are being held are really a prime breeding ground for the flu. What did she say about that? So she said that based on the fact that they cram so many people in just such a small space and do not allow them access to, you know, be on cursory screenings, do not allow them access to any medications or things like that.

Speaker 1: 03:56 The, these are breeding grounds for the flu, right? Just like a school could be a breeding ground for a flu. If you put people in close proximity, if you do not give them access to sanitation, sanitary products, a lot of places, a lot of these border patrol facilities, the toilet is the same as the sink. Um, you know, it's one unit that's obviously will breed, um, infection and disease and that's exactly what you have happening in, in border patrol facilities like this. And, uh, there's in fact a new report that was put out by San Diego state university looking into the conditions of border patrol facilities and, and the health of people coming out of those facilities. And it's, it's quite market that people's health outcomes clearly decline while they stay in border patrol facilities, in groups, including doctors for camp closure. We're providing healthcare services to migrants.

Speaker 1: 04:44 Previously, at what point in the process were they able to do that? Some were, some doctors were crossing over into to Kuana to meet with migrants who were waiting or had been sent back to Mexico under the remain in Mexico program. Um, and giving them screenings. They're giving them healthcare in another country offering aid. Um, uh, other doctors had been, like I said before, once people had been released from border patrol custody, meeting with them, screening with them, uh, at local shelters that put people up, uh, when they get released from custody and basically fulfilling their, their medical requirements. Some of them needed immediate transport to a hospital. Uh, their situation was so dire. And all of this comes at a time when apprehensions by border patrol are down by a third. What's being credited as the reason for that decrease. So they reason for that decrease is, um, there's a couple of reasons.

Speaker 1: 05:36 One is that the interior of Mexico, there's been a lot more enforcement by the Mexican government to make sure that people cannot cross from it's, uh, the Southern border of Mexico into Mexico and make their way to the U S uh, there's been a real focus on that. Uh, another thing is the remain in Mexico program, customs and border protection and the department of Homeland security claim that that has acted effectively as a deterrent. Um, you know, it's really tough to prove causation. And of course the numbers that we were seeing last year seemed pretty unsustainable in terms of just the sheer numbers of people who decided to come at the same time. So it's unclear what's driving that. One thing we do know, however, is that the amount of Mexicans, families from Mexico who are crossing the border and asking for asylum has increased during that time. Uh, so the migrant crisis along the Southern border, even though numbers are down, is not going anywhere. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Riverland and Adler max. Thank you. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.