The novel coronavirus has hit the Mexican encampment where thousands of asylum-seekers kicked out of the U.S. under inhumane Trump administration policy have been living for months on end, international NGO Global Response Management said on Twitter. Reuters reports the organization has confirmed three cases at the camp and “is proactively testing and isolating all close contacts of the three migrants who tested positive,” the report said.
The danger has always been that this virus could quickly spread at the Matamoros camp where the administration has forced families to live instead of allowing them to pursue their cases in the U.S. “This was avoidable,” Refugees International tweeted, saying that as it “and public health experts suggested at the start of the pandemic, asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico program could have been paroled safely to family members in the United States.”
Legislators who have visited the camp where asylum-seekers subject to the Remain in Mexico policy are living described unsanitary and crowded conditions that were already harmful even before the pandemic hit.
“About 2,500 migrants, including hundreds of children, live in a crude camp on land that used to be a park but is now dirt and mud,” Illinois Rep. Chuy García wrote earlier this year. “There is no running water; the migrants share water from a tank. If they get sick, and many of them do, they see a doctor in a structure the size of port-a-potty. Clothes are drying on tree branches. Tents are pitched on top of each other and there is a primitive sewage system. I hear people speaking Spanish, but I also hear indigenous languages. It seems unreal—I wish it were. This is a refugee camp—a refugee camp President Trump created.”
To date, more than 60,000 asylum-seekers have been forced out of the U.S. under the policy, The Associated Press reported, with 2,000 currently living at the camp. Global Response Management said it has attempted to implement safety measures wherever possible, including placing “tents a meter (3 feet) apart, leaving them open for ventilation and having everyone sleep head to toe to curtail the chances of transmission while people sleep,” the report continued.
But it needs to be repeated that all of this—from forcing families to sleep outdoors to lack of running water to a COVID-19 outbreak—was avoidable, as Refugees International said. Families should have been allowed to live with sponsors or relatives here as was done in the past, but the Trump administration chose deliberate cruelty. In explosive audio obtained through the work of Human Rights First and released by CNN earlier this year, an administration attorney was heard admitting the policy was dangerous, as advocates have said all along.
“Dr. Michele Heisler, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of internal medicine and public health at University of Michigan, in a statement characterized GRM's work in the camp as ‘Herculean,’” the AP continued. “She criticized the U.S. policy for creating the situation and said asylum seekers should be paroled to stay with relatives in the U.S. while their cases are processed.”
The administration is similarly risking the lives of detained children and parents amid the pandemic by refusing to immediately release them together following a federal judge’s court order. Because Judge Dolly Gee’s order covers only detained children, advocates worry officials may use it to separate more families. “Judge Gee only has authority over detained children under the Flores Settlement Agreement,” RAICES said. “And while we applaud Judge Gee’s decision, we are are worried ICE may use this court order to attempt to tear children away from their parents again. We cannot let this happen.”