Thousands of asylum seekers crammed in border towns near the Texas-Mexico border awaiting U.S. immigration hearings are at risk of dying from coronavirus because of poor health access and unsafe conditions, advocates say.
In Matamoros, where around 2,000 migrants live in a sprawling outdoor camp where they sleep in tents and share portable bathrooms and sinks, health advocates warned the coronavirus could spread rampantly. The camp is located across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.
Last week, Global Response Management, the nonprofit that operates the only health clinic in the camp, launched plans to erect a two-tent, 20-bed field hospital in the camp to house coronavirus patients if and when the virus arrives, said Helen Perry, the group’s executive director.
“We are very concerned,” she said. “You have a vulnerable, displaced community in poor living conditions without access to health care, where food is communal and housing is communal. It’s a recipe for explosive infection and transmission.”
Migrants in the camp are part of the U.S. government’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, program, also known as Remain in Mexico, where asylum-seekers to the U.S. are placed in seven Mexican border towns, from Matamoros to Tijuana, to await their court hearings.
More than 60,000 immigrants have gone through the program since it launched in January 2019. In a recent court filing, a Customs and Border Protection official said there are currently around 25,000 migrants in the program.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR, which oversees the migrants’ court hearings, announced Sunday it was postponing all non-detained immigration hearings through April 10. It’s unclear whether migrants waiting in Mexico classify as “detained” or not but their hearings went on as scheduled Monday.