A group of doctors and other protesters were arrested by federal authorities in California this week as they attempted to pressure U.S. Customs and Border Protection to administer flu vaccines to detained migrant children.
At least three minors in U.S. immigration custody ― aged 2, 6 and 16 ― have died from complications from the flu since December 2018.
The San Diego Union-Tribune said six protesters, including at least two doctors, were handcuffed and taken into custody outside U.S. Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector headquarters in Chula Vista on Tuesday afternoon. The group had laid on the ground to block an entrance to the facility.
They were cited for failing to “comply with the lawful directions of a federal police officer” and later released with an order to appear in federal court, the Union-Tribune said.
Doctors and immigration advocates ― and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ― have been pressing CBP for months to administer flu shots to migrants in their custody. Some physicians have even offered to set up free clinics to administer the vaccines.
On Monday, a group of a doctors arrived at a CBP detention facility in San Ysidro and urged the agency to allow detained migrant children to participate in a mobile clinic set up outside. But their efforts were rebuffed.
“Of course Border Patrol isn’t going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs,” the press secretary of the Department of Homeland Security said in a Tuesday statement.
CBP has said previously that operating a vaccine program is not “feasible” given the short period of time that migrants are in their custody.
But while CBP is technically not supposed to hold migrants for more than 72 hours, activists say both adults and children are routinely held for longer periods than that in some CBP facilities.
Dr. Hannah Janeway, an emergency medicine physician who was among the group of doctors at San Ysidro on Monday, told The Guardian that the federal government has a moral obligation to provide flu shots to migrants in their custody.
“More people will die without the vaccine,” Janeway said. “There’s no doubt. They are being locked in cages in cold weather together, without any vaccination, in a year that is supposed to bring a horrible flu epidemic.”
CBP’s acting commissioner, Mark Morgan, told reporters Monday that the agency was reviewing its medical protocols “to see where we can improve.” He added the CBP was considering “what makes the most sense” on the issue of vaccinating migrants.