Doctors Arrested At Border After Offering Free Flu Shots

  • Charges included Attempted Disease Prevention, Carrying A Loaded Stethoscope and Public Inoculation – probably.

Photo by niu niu on Unsplash


The American Constitution says that everyone has the right to pursue liberty, happiness, and life. And yet Border Patrol refuses to let immigrants get flu treatment, even when resulting in death. Doctors were arrested for trying to deliver the needed medicine…

While It’s Probable It Started Before Then, The Complaints Started LAST December…

Throughout the year 3 children alone have died from influenza in facilities along the southwest border. Migrants routinely complained about cold temperature sickening children, and physicians reported that crowded conditions spread the illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we’re concerned that infectious respiratory illnesses were spreading in the facilities. This year CDC recommended flu vaccinations ‘at the earliest point of entry’ for migrants at least six months old. However, Customs and Border Protection officials refused to put vaccination programs into effect. They argued that most only spend seventy-two hours in Border Patrol facilities.

Twenty Medical Professionals

The controversy hit a flash-point when twenty medical professionals showed up hauling coolers with flu vaccines, this week. They showed up at the detention center near San Diego, announcing their plan to inoculate everyone inside the facility who consented. The physicians and nurses, members of a new health-focused immigrant-rights organization, were told to return the next day for a meeting with border officials. They, of course, we’re told that they would not be allowed to provide free shots. “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 Department of Homeland Security’s secretary Tweeted.


Officials said that trying to provide flu shots to everyone during the few days they spend in Border Patrol custody didn’t even make sense. Because those who go on to be held in longer-term detention facilities routinely receive vaccinations. The border agency, who invited CDC&P to inspect its facilities about a year ago, said that they had significantly expanded their medical programs, with more than two-fifty health care employees now working along the border.



“To try and layer a comprehensive vaccination system onto that would be logistically very challenging for a number of reasons. The system and process for implement vaccines – including vaccine supply chains, quality control, documentation, informed consent – are already in place at other steps in the immigration process as appropriate,” said the agency. Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for longer-term detention of migrants in the US, had an annual mass flu vaccination program. Children are offered vaccines ‘appropriate for their age,’ and adults are offered vaccinations for chickenpox.

Department of Health And Human Services (DHS)

DHS oversees long-term shelters for immigrant children. They said that they also provided vaccinations, including flu shots, according to federal guidelines. However, doctors urged the agency to provide flu shots at the border to the many migrants that arrive and don’t get sent to long-term detention facilities in the US where the vaccinations are provided. Under Trump’s administration’s new and more restrictive policies, thousands are being sent back to Mexico, where many wait in teeming, unhealthy border camps. Many people, including Border Patrol agents, have complained about the risk of disease transmission. Many are ill when they are apprehended, or become ill shortly after arriving at the processing facilities.

Christopher Cabrera

Mr. Cabrera is vice president of Border Patrol in Rio Grande Valley and has been working with the Border Patrol for seventeen years. “The majority of our agents get sick. Infectious disease is everywhere. There’s always scabies in there. Usually, we have chickenpox. We have tuberculosis in there. You name it, it’s probably been through the building.” So if the agents are getting sick, the migrant are getting sick, and the vice president is saying he saw it with his own eyes, why are they not accepting help?

Representative Rosa L. DeLauro

Rosa L. DeLauro is the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for DHS. Ms. DeLauro said that it’s ‘unconscionable’ that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) remained opposed to vaccinating migrants in its custody. “Public health officials at the CDC gave guidance and recommendation to Customs and Border Protection officials regarding flu season. Yet recent reports indicate that CBP officials are unlikely to vaccinate children and families at the border to safeguard them and others for influenza.”

The CDC Sent Three Teams To Examine Border Patrol

In a twenty-seven page report, the CDC advised giving vaccinations as soon as possible to newly arrived migrants, which is one of the events leading to the health care workers. Since last year, several medical groups have raised an alarm over medical care in border facilities. The group that led this week’s inoculation effort, Doctors for Camp Closure, represents about two-thousands medicals professionals and students. The organization had been working for more than a month to win approval for a pilot program to inoculate those in Customs and Border Protection custody, according to Dr. Marie DeLuca.

Dr. DeLuca

“After more than one year of inaction, we feel that it is important to show that we are serious and ready to provide flu vaccinations,” said Dr. DeLuca. Dr. DeLuca is a co-founder who was among the six arrested on Dec 10th at the regional headquarters in Chula Vista, Calif for Border Patrol. Dr. DeLuca is also an emergency medicine physician from New York. When the group received no response from Customs and Border Protection about its vaccination proposal, about twenty people volunteered to go to Border Patrol’s facility in Chula Vista on Monday with one-hundred-and-twenty doses of flu vaccine. Dr. DeLuca said that the group was not allowed into the facility and was told to have two representatives return the next day for a meeting with border officials.

Oh, That Faithful Tuesday…

On Tuesday, Customs and Border Protection officially rebuffed the group’s offer. Doctors, nurses, and other supporters protested outside the Border Patrol headquarters nearby. Several demonstrators blocked entrances to the building. Six were arrested, four being doctors, and released about an hour later. “What is at stake are adverse health outcomes and risk of death in a detention center. All we want to do is give passive medical treatment through flu vaccinations,” said Mario Mendoza. Mendoza is an anesthesiologist who was among those arrested. He was seven when he arrived in the US as an undocumented immigrant.

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