U.S.-Mexico border wall in Texas near a dirt road

Targeting Health: How Anti-Immigrant Policies Threaten Our Health & Our Humanity

By Patricia Illingworth and Wendy E. Parmet

On May 19th of last year, Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died of the flu while being held in a cell by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in south Texas. He was just 16, a migrant from Guatemala. Hours before his death, when his fever spiked to 103, a nurse suggested that he be checked again in a few hours and taken to the emergency room if he got any worse. Instead, Carlos was moved to a cell and isolated. By morning, he was dead.

Sadly, Carlos’s substandard medical treatment was not an isolated case. Between December 2018 and May 20, 2019, five migrant children died while in federal custody. All of them were from Guatemala. Their deaths were not accidental. Rather, they died as a consequence of harsh policies that are designed to deter immigration, in part, by making life itself precarious for migrants.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has instituted a wide-ranging crackdown on immigration. A surprising number of the policies the administration has instituted as part of that crackdown relate directly or indirectly to health. For example, in addition to providing inadequate treatment to sick migrants, CBP has refused to provide flu shots to detainees, despite the fact that influenza, like other infectious diseases, can spread rapidly in overcrowded detention facilities. In dismissing a CDC recommendation to provide the vaccines, CBP cited the complexity of administering vaccines and the fact that most migrants spend less than 72 hours in its custody before being transferred to other agencies, or returned to Mexico. These explanations lack credibility given how easy it is to administer flu vaccines. Read More