As organizations representing civil society in the region, we object to and are alarmed by the offensive public health risk created by ongoing U.S. deportations and expulsions amid a global health crisis. We urgently call on the Trump and Lopez Obrador administrations to cease exacerbating the vulnerabilities of migrants and to work towards constructing an environment that is safe for all inhabitants of the North American region.
The United States, currently the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been unable to control the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in already overcrowded and unsanitary detention facilities. COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly inside U.S. immigrant detention centers, where close to 27,000 people are currently detained. As of May 22, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported 1,201 detainees, and 44 ICE employees at detention facilities, tested positive; and on May 6, ICE confirmed the first known COVID-19 death of a detained immigrant. On May 10, a former detainee died shortly after being released.
The potential spread of the highly contagious and deadly virus has not deterred U.S. deportations and expulsions of foreign nationals from or to COVID-19 hot spots. In April, after Mexico declared a public health emergency, the United States turned around close to 15,000 individuals including non-Mexicans mostly to Mexican territory, and deported others from detention centers with known outbreaks. An overwhelming number of U.S. detainees were not tested for COVID-19 before their deportation or expulsion, and there are reports of U.S. deportees later testing positive back in their country of origin.
Though Mexico bears the burden of receiving the majority of U.S. deportations and expulsions, Mexico has struggled to respond to and even quantify the scope of the pandemic, due to a lack of resources, supplies, infrastructure, and reporting health mechanisms. Tijuana, Mexicali, Ciudad Juárez, and Mexico City—cities where migrants are being deported or expelled—are emerging hot spots, where an increasing number of cases have been confirmed.
Despite appeals by civil society organizations and human rights groups on both sides of the border, deportations and expulsions at the U.S.-Mexico border have not ceased and, in fact, ICE announced on May 19, 2020, that interior repatriation flights will resume after suspending the program on March 19. During the pandemic, U.S. land deportations and expulsions now occur during expanded hours, ignoring previous measures put in place to protect migrants arriving at dangerous Mexican border towns. Nearly all asylum seekers and migrants, including unaccompanied minors, who attempt to cross anywhere along the U.S. border are now subject to swift expulsions under Title 42. The expulsions are conducted by U.S. border agents in blatant violation of international human rights law and in total disregard for child protection measures set out in the Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). The United States’ focus on fast-tracked turnarounds has resulted in countless expulsions without prior notification to Mexican officials, who cannot provide COVID-19 screening in those cases.
ICE, by its own account, performs only a visual screening and temperature check before a person is deported or expelled—a measure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated is ineffective for testing COVID-19. It has denied receiving countries’ requests that U.S. deportations be suspended, and states have been warned that they will face visa sanctions if they refuse their own nationals. These conditions imposed by the United States have created an unacceptable public health risk that has alarmed Caribbean and Latin American countries, including Mexico, who have been forced to receive cases of asymptomatic carriers who later tested positive.
On the Mexican side, persons deported from the United States report inadequate screening at ports of entry by health officials, who perform, if at all, a mere temperature check. There is no strict requirement that persons deported or turned around be tested for COVID-19, isolate, or be given a face mask, though Mexican cities and states along the border have made it mandatory. A lack of federal resources or comprehensive and uniform protocol have contributed to meek efforts at the border to control the spread of the highly contagious virus. The combined insufficient and ineffective detection and control measures implemented by both countries has resulted in U.S. deportees being linked to outbreaks at migrant shelters.
The repatriation of Mexicans, including persons separated from their families, mothers who have recently given birth, persons with serious physical disabilities and injuries, and U.S. veterans, poses particular challenges during the pandemic which have not been considered or prioritized in public policies. Once in Mexican territory, deported individuals face limited shelter options, homelessness in many cases, insecurity, distress, xenophobia, an unresponsive healthcare system, and a crashing economy.
The mass closure of government offices and suspension of services required by deported Mexicans to access identity documents has left a significant portion of Mexican society without social protection during one of the most widespread pandemics in history. The Mexican government’s failure to consider and include deported Mexican nationals in Mexican policy and health decisions has left these individuals without access to work, government benefits, or services of any kind.
COVID-19 is a global health crisis that requires responsible public health responses, in addition to increased government efforts to ensure the health, safety, and social inclusion of Mexicans deported or expelled from the United States during the pandemic. Due to their proximity and heavy traffic between the two countries, the United States and Mexico must coordinate efforts to maintain the safety of the region.
While the epicenter of the pandemic remains in the Western Hemisphere, we urge the Trump and Lopez Obrador administrations to protect the lives and well-being of North Americans by taking the following actions:
Al Otro Lado
Asylum Access Mexico (AAMX) A.C.
Centro de Apoyo Marista al Migrante – CAMMI
Centro de Atención a la Familia Migrante Indígena, CAFAMI A. C.
Centro de Investigación Autónomo de la Frontera
Centro de Investigación y Proyectos para la Igualdad de Género
Deportados Unidos en la Lucha
Dreamers Moms USA Tijuana A.C.
Education and Leadership Foundation
El Refugio Casa Del Migrante
Estudiantes Regresando a México, A.C. (“Dream in Mexico”)
Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM)
Families Belong Together México
FM4 Paso Libre, Dignidad y Justicia en el Camino A.C.
Fundacion Promigrante America Sin Muros
Grupo Destino y Libertad Servicio Unidad Recuperación (GDLSUR)
Immigrant Defenders Law Center
Iniciativa Ciudadana para la Promoción de la Cultura del Diálogo, A. C.
Instituto de Geografía para la Paz AC
Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración (IMUMI)
Kino Border Initiative
Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice
Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic
Médicos Sin Fronteras
Mexican Migration Project
ODA, Otros Dreams en Acción
Pathways for International Cooperation, Inclusion, and Solidarity (PICIS)
Puente TJ United (Tijuana)
Sin Fronteras I.A.P.
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team
Southwestern Law School Community Lawyering Clinic
Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas
The Rhizome Center for Migrants
Unified U.S. Deported Veterans
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Yaotlyaocihuatl Ameyal A.C.
Stand with us in this essential fight to protect human rights on both sides of the border: