Guadalajara, May 6, 2020 – The international health crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus has radically changed our lives. We have become drastically accustomed to hearing medical reports on confirmed cases, people recovered and deaths in different countries of the world every day. Social distancing and staying at home have become our new routines that plunge us into uncertainty. Although we would like the confinement to end, no one knows when we will be able to return to “normal”. As much as epidemiologists try to explain the development of the pandemic and the measures to contain it, the only thing that has become clear to us is that the pandemic will inevitably reach our homes. Staying home only prevents the pandemic from exceeding the capacity of health services, it does not stop it.
Our protocols in our shelters or migrant care centers did not contemplate the eventuality of a pandemic. Given the possible massive contagion, each institution had to make decisions to carry out care for migrants and asylum seekers. There were different scenarios: closing the doors of the shelter and continuing to distribute food; close the doors of the shelter and serve only those who were staying before the pandemic or partially close the shelter and accept a limited number of people each day. The last option was to continue with attention. However, continuing to receive migrants and the lack of precise health security strategies by the federal government to attend to the population that continues to be deported, was a risky option, mainly in the border cities of northern Mexico.
This last option was the one they took at the Casa del Migrante Nazareth in Nuevo Laredo. Closing the house would have meant leaving many migrant brothers and sisters on the street, especially deportees from the United States, exposed to being victims of the virus and organized crime. So they decided to implement extreme health and hygiene measures, running the risk that the outbreak would occur at some point. These measures were: take the temperature to the guests every day, continually encourage hand washing, disinfect each person and everything they brought before entering the shelter, disinfect cell phones after each call, be aware of who has a cough or fever, quarantine the person with one of these symptoms and call the doctor to rule out infections.
The coronavirus finally entered the migrant shelter of Nuevo Laredo in the middle of April. Despite the precautions, a Mexican migrant deported from Houston, TX arrived, who was unaware of being a carrier of the coronavirus. Unfortunately, it was not detected because he had not developed symptoms. After four days of being at the shelter, the symptoms appeared, but other migrants had already been infected: 6 Hondurans, 4 Mexicans, 3 Cubans, and 1 from Cameroon. Also, Fr. Julio López, Scalabrinian missionary and Director of the Shelter, was confirmed with COVID-19. Currently, they are isolated, stable, evolving satisfactorily and without complications. At the end of the 14 days of isolation, a second sampling will be done to verify that the test is negative and they can leave the shelter. The migrants who were staying at the Casa del Migrante who tested negative are isolated for 14 days in another shelter, also belonging to the Catholic Church. After the outbreak, state and municipal authorities have had a fundamental role in caring for the sick. Those who are healthy are being accompanied by Fr. Marvin Ajic, c.s. and Fr. Enrique Figueroa, c.s., who thanks to the solidarity of many people can continue to carry out the service to migrants and asylum seekers.
The Episcopal Dimension of the Pastoral of Human Mobility (the dependency of the Mexican episcopate responsible for the pastoral care of migrants in the country) chaired by Bishop José Guadalupe Torres Campos, Bishop of Cd. Juárez, and of which Fr. Julio López, c.s. is the Executive Secretary stated in a press release of March 23 that the North American government did not stop the deportations and that “it would also deport the coronavirus through the wide door with the consent of the Mexican government (sic).” In the same press release, the fragility of the border with the United States was lamented regarding the lack of efficient and permanent sanitary controls by the Mexican government.
Fr. Julio had denounced that the United States authorities were deporting without medical control or going through sanitary filters. The local Ministry of Health also denounced that since February 20, at least 20 offices were sent by the state government to the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic and the National Institute of Migration (INM), without receiving a response, to alert about a possible COVID-19 outbreak due to the lack of sanitary filters in the deported population.
On April 13, Fr Julio López, c.s. and the Bishop of Nuevo Laredo, Bishop Enrique Sánchez Martínez, announced in an open letter addressed to the diocesan community of Nuevo Laredo, to government authorities, institutions, its benefactors and the general population, the temporary closure of the shelter to new migrants coming in order to take precautionary measures and reduce the risk of contagion. In the letter, they denounce that deportations do not stop, despite the risk of those who are deported and can spread the virus, that they can become a risk not only for the deportees themselves who are exposed to precarious sanitary measures but even to the country that expels them.
Unfortunately, the news of the outbreak in the Casa del Migrante de Nuevo Laredo has been interpreted as an event that concerns the Catholic Church and the shelter involved. In our opinion, as Scalabrinian Missionaries we think that COVID-19 has arrived at a “Casa del Migrante” due to the negligence of the health authorities at the border stations is extremely serious. The Church and civil society have formally expressed through various press releases their concern that the pandemic will spread through the deportees of the United States, putting at risk not only the migrants but also the entire population, as is already the case happening in Guatemala and El Salvador.
In how many Casas del Migrante does an epidemiological outbreak have to take place in order for the federal government to take strict sanitary measures at border crossings with the United States and establish adequate protocols for the care of migrants that test positive for COVID-19? Why minimize what happens to Mexicans deported on the border with the United States?
It is admirable that some people risk their lives to serve migrants. However, if there were clear, timely and better-coordinated protocols from the three levels of government, we would not be regretting and having to close spaces of solidarity, with sick people when they could have been prevented if they had acted in time.
Fr. José Juan Cervantes, c.s. and Kendy Belizaire
Kendy is a Scalabrinian novice, who along with his partner Jacob Desile, has been serving at the Casas del Migrante Nazareth from the end of February to the middle of April of this year.
Cf. Dimensión Episcopal de la Pastoral de la Movilidad Humana, comunicado del 23 de marzo de 2020 de la ante la contingencia nacional a causa de la pandemia del Covid-19
Cf. Dimensión Episcopal de la Pastoral de la Movilidad Humana. Op. Cit.
fotografías de Casa del Migrante Nazareth en Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.