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Protect Immigrant Communities: Fear Mounts of Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak in U.S. Border Camps, ICE Jails

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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has joined thousands of medical professionals and immigration rights groups to demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement release all prisoners from immigration jails as the coronavirus continues to spread. Meanwhile, immigration advocates are working to prepare crowded encampments of asylum seekers across the U.S.-Mexico border for a potentially catastrophic outbreak of COVID-19. Since the implementation of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, tens of thousands of asylum seekers from regions like Central America and Africa have been stranded in Mexican border cities waiting for their asylum cases to resolve in U.S. courts. We speak to Laura Molinar, founder and executive director of Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas, a Latinx, women of color-led collective providing support to immigrant and asylee women, children and families.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has joined thousands of medical professionals and immigrant rights groups to demand that ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, release detainees from immigration jails as the coronavirus continues to spread. At least four asylum seekers and five ICE agents have tested positive for COVID-19. The number is likely to be far higher. More than 37,000 immigrants are jailed in crowded facilities across the United States.

Meanwhile, immigration advocates are working to prepare crowded encampments of asylum seekers across the U.S.-Mexico border for a potentially catastrophic outbreak of COVID-19. Under Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, tens of thousands of asylum seekers, from regions like Central America and Africa, have been stranded in Mexican border cities waiting for their asylum cases to resolve in U.S. courts. This is José Estrada, a Honduran asylum seeker staying at a border shelter in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

JOSÉ ESTRADA: [translated] It is a big concern for all of those who are waiting for a court hearing date. I was meant to have a hearing on the 30th. And because of coronavirus, it has been postponed. All of our cases here, everyone is very concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: A medical aid organization in a Matamoros, Mexico, encampment says there are at least five people with COVID-19 symptoms, no access to coronavirus test kits.

For more, we’re going to Laura Molinar. She is founder and executive director of the group Dreams Without Borders de Tejas, Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas, a Latinx, women of color-led collective providing support to immigrant and asylee women, children and families.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Laura. If you can start off by talking about this latest call by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, led by Joaquin Castro, the brother of the presidential candidate, calling for the release of ICE detainees? This follows the former ICE director, under Obama, calling for their release. We’re talking about close to 40,000 people in ICE jails. And ICE unilaterally, without even the president’s approval, could release them. Is that right?

LAURA MOLINAR: Yes. Yes, he could. Definitely.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could talk about the significance of this and what it would mean? Who are we talking about being released?

LAURA MOLINAR: Yes. So, we’re talking about adults, elders, children as young as 1 month, 2 months old, that are currently being detained in ICE detention. And my collective, Sueños Sin Fronteras, I mean, we believe that detention, jails, especially right now, need to be shut down immediately. And we’re are committed to achieving this goal and supporting the Hispanic Congressional Caucus with their statements that detainees need to be released immediately and detention centers need to be shut down.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Laura, can you talk about what’s happening along the border? I mean, there’s ICE detention facilities, but there are also these asylee, these refugee camps on the U.S.-Mexico border.

LAURA MOLINAR: Yes. So, the majority of our work here in South Texas, it’s been in Matamoros, Reynosa, also parts of Del Rio and Piedras Negras. And yes, I mean, it’s a humanitarian crisis. The situation is terrifying and deadly. And we have heard from several of our program partners in Matamoros that there’s no real way to prepare for an outbreak at the encampments. And it’s essentially impossible to practice social distancing and to safely quarantine. So, many of the volunteer physicians and nurses at the encampments in Matamoros are simply taking it day by day and working as hard as they can to mitigate the risks and prevent the spread of infection.

And so, some of the challenges that they’re experiencing right now, particularly in Matamoros, is that they need access to PPE, testing, medication, sanitizer and other essential supplies. Medical teams working at the encampments do not have the capability to operate as an ICU. And they’re basically preparing themselves to administer palliative and end-of-life care, in the case that an outbreak occurs. And to my knowledge, there is not any COVID-19 testing available in border towns such as Matamoros, and Mexican cities do not have the resources and healthcare to handle the spread of infection. And it’s terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk more about mutual aid, a term that people are hearing more about, how communities at the grassroots level are helping? I mean, here we are alone together, where part of the protection is being apart from people. Yet what people are doing along the border, what kind of help do you need from people all over?

LAURA MOLINAR: It’s a great question. So, right now Sueños Sin Fronteras, our mission is to increase health and healing for immigrant women and families arriving from the border, but not just asylum seekers. We assist women and families that have recently been released from detention centers in South Texas, also the undocumented community that is living here in South Texas. In Texas, there are 4.7 million immigrants living here, and that makes up approximately about 17% of the total population here in Texas. Many of these individuals do not have healthcare. They do not qualify for healthcare or certain social services. And so the need for mutual aid is paramount.

And our health advocate model here at Sueños Sin Fronteras, we aim to address these barriers and gaps through care coordination and resources and health education. So, right now we have launched a mutual aid fund for immigrant women and families, not only at the encampments, but also being released from detention, and also just the general undocumented population here in Bexar County. And this mutual aid will help provide food, groceries, housing assistance, hygiene and health supplies and education to vulnerable immigrant families in Bexar County and South Texas, other parts of the border.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Molinar, I want to thank you so much for being with us. We’ll continue to follow this critical issue, founder and executive director of Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas, Dreams Without Border of Texas, speaking to us from San Antonio.

And that’s it for our show. Please cover your face. It’s an altruistic act. Whether you use a scarf, however you do it, cover your mouth and your nose when you go outside. We all have to protect each other by protecting ourselves.

Democracy Now! is working with as few people on site as possible. The majority of our amazing team is working from home.

My condolences to our Democracy Now! fellow, Adriano Contreras, who just lost his beloved uncle, Gilberto Castillo, who was 92 years old. Adriano, our condolences go out to your whole family, all the very best, and to your aunt.

Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Libby Rainey, Nermeen Shaikh, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras and María Taracena. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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