Border patrol refusing to let doctors treat children

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Doctors want to provide free vaccines to kids and parents at a detention facilities across the nation, but they aren't being allowed.

A group of doctors is pressuring Customs and Border Protection officials to allow them to administer flu vaccines to families in immigration detention. Despite multiple deaths, the doctors claim the agency has thus far refused offers for medical care.

According to a Tuesday report in the Los Angeles Times, seven doctors offered to arrange volunteers to vaccinate kids and parents at Border Patrol holding facilities "to prevent a possible flu epidemic." In letters to the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, the doctors noted that the children in Border Patrol custody were nine times more likely to die of the flu than the general population. Three youths died last year.

While the doctors had not yet received a response, a spokesperson for the Border Patrol told the Times that it did not vaccinate in holding areas because they were intended to be temporary placements.

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"As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short-term nature of [Border Patrol] holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible," she said.

A CBP spokesperson added in an email Wednesday evening that it had "never been a CBP practice to administer vaccines and this not a new policy."

"CBP has never provided immunizations or vaccination programs for persons in custody," they said. "There are other organizations involved within the immigration process where those programs are in place. For CBP to try and duplicate that wouldn't make sense from a law enforcement, public health or good governance perspective when those programs are already in place at other steps in the immigration process as appropriate."

They added that "both ICE and HHS have comprehensive medical support services and can provide vaccinations as appropriate to those in their custody."

Julie Sierra, one of the doctors offering to do the vaccinations, told the Los Angeles Times this week that she had nevertheless seen the flu spreading among migrant families in the San Diego area. "It's putting people in a dangerous situation and increasing their risks of getting any disease, including the flu," noting that once they get sick, the vaccines won't help them.

Sierra said she attempted to help vaccinate patients at the San Ysidro Border Patrol station near her clinic. "They won't let us in. We've volunteered to take care of patients, to be on call. We keep trying to help."

This article was updated to include additional comments from a CBP spokesperson.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.