Doctors Protest Customs and Border Patrol Medical Policies

by Linda D. Green

February, 2020

The metropolitan Washington DC area contingent of Doctors for Camp Closures (D4CC) demonstrated at the Customs and Border Patrol headquarters to protest racist immigration policies that divide and deport migrants along the Texas/Mexico border.  Eight hundred and fifty thousand (850,000) to one million (1,000,000) people were arrested at the border in 2019, including 50,000 families and 76,000 children traveling alone!  The US Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program requires asylum seekers and others to stay in Mexico while the US processes their claims. US immigration sent back approximately 50,000 people to Mexico to live in squalid and dangerous areas while they waited. (Washington Post, October 8, 2019; PBS News Hour, October 30, 2019).

These policies create a devil’s choice for families migrating to the US from Central America. They force families to either live in unsafe conditions in Mexico or risk detention, deportation, and separation if they enter the US. The US claims about 3,000 children are detained, but others cite much higher numbers. Children dwell in cages with inadequate clothes, medical attention, food, and education; seven have died while the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) had responsibility to monitor them and provide treatment.

In protest of these inhumane and racist policies, Doctors4CampClosure (D4CC), a group of 2,200 medical professionals, has organized to stop family separations, inadequate medical care, and detentions. The group has held rallies and demanded to meet with CBP medical staff about lack of flu vaccinations and general medical care for children and families. Chapters are being formed in every state. In the DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia), an active chapter led a protest at the Trump hotel in October. In response to our mobilization on February 6, 2020 CBP Senior Medical Advisor Tarantino said he would meet with us after all. We will see if that happens, if not we will be back.

D4CC has also joined with other groups, such as the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), Close the Camps/Cosecha and New Sanctuary in other actions. They were present at a rally at the Philadelphia ICE office during the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in November 2019. In Maryland, D4CC members are demanding that the state stop building ICE detention centers and that local governments stop collaborating with ICE. At the large militant anti-ICE rally of 500 on February 16 in New York City, they were there.

In California, D4CC demanded flu vaccinations for the incarcerated children but was blocked by the CBP; several doctors were arrested even though they had their own supply of flu vaccine. The CBP claimed that the children could get the vaccine after they reached their final destination since they would only be held a couple of days. But in fact, many are held longer, and the crowded conditions predispose to the spread of infection.

The February 6 rally included plans to disrupt CBP work and risk arrest through civil disobedience. This reflects the anger and seriousness of medical professionals about joining the fight for immigrant rights and building solidarity across ethnic and racial as well as geographic borders. As one D4CC leader said:

I think we should close the camps, and if we can’t do that, at least do the absolute minimum for people who are imprisoned in these camps, and that is treat them like human beings who deserve medical care. We need to make sure these people are getting vaccines, getting medicines, getting food, clothing, and shelter. We can’t trust the assurances of CBP that they are doing these things, because we see the results.”

This rally built on the many resolutions passed in medical organizations to get the message out through demonstrations and direct action as demonstrated by public health and immigrant rights activists who rallied at the APHA, turning words into action. While most of the D4CC members are physicians, their events welcome a wide range of medical workers as well. See https://d4cc.squarespace.com/ for their full platform and ways to participate.

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