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Border patrol presence at COVID-19 drive-thrus raises questions

Posted at 7:19 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 22:19:39-04

TUCSON, AZ — The ACLU of Arizona demands answers from Customs and Border Protection after they say they have been receiving multiple reports of border patrol agents at hospitals providing COVID-19 testing.

The civil rights organization, released a video to abc15 showing a border patrol vehicle present at a COVID-19 testing site at the Diamond Children’s Medical Center in Tucson.

“I don’t believe this is an isolated incident, but let’s say that it was. it is particularly dangerous to be engaging in such behavior to have such a public presence in a hospital that is specifically giving drive-thru covid-19 testing,” said Yvette Borja, attorney with ACLU of Arizona.

What was a border patrol vehicle doing parked just steps away from a covid-19 drive-thru?

In a statement, Tucson sector, Customs and Border Protection said:

“We are not conducting enforcement operations at any sensitive locations. This is our normal operational posture and it has not changed. Any person or organization inferring differently is creating an unnecessary panic. The Border Patrol is focused at the border in an effort to deter and prevent illegal entries and further limit COVID-19 exposure and spread.

Part of our responsibility is assuring detainees receive medical treatment when needed. Seeing Border Patrol agents at a local hospital is normal, it is no different than seeing other law enforcement entities at hospitals with persons in custody in need of medical attention. During the month of March, agents were at the local hospital 88 times for detainee care and 18 times for injuries to agents.”

However, for ACLU of Arizona, border patrol presence in hospitals could deter undocumented people from going to hospitals and getting tested even if they’re showing COVID-19 like symptoms.

“For them it’s a choice between two different kinds of potential death because many asylum seekers are deported to violence and death, so it’s a decision between interacting with border patrol law enforcement and potentially risking yourself from getting deported,” said Borja.

On March 18, U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement saying anyone regardless of immigration status should seek medical treatment or preventive services for coronavirus.

The statement was last updated on April 3, it says:

“ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors' offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.”

“Está mal lo que están haciendo de por sí” / “what they’re doing is wrong, it will only worsen the situation”

“Esto va a ahuyentar a la comunidad con síntomas, no van a querer ir a hacerse el examen, está mal lo que están haciendo de por sí, (‘This is going to scare the community with COVID like symptoms, they won’t want to go to the hospital to get tested, what they’re doing is wrong, it will only worsen the situation’),” says Jose Guzmán, who leads a nonprofit organization for victims of crimes in Phoenix.

Guzman says the undocumented community not only is afraid of seeking medical care for COVID-19, but also for being turned away for not having health insurance.

Banner hospital released a statement to abc15 saying they’re not turning away people who may not have insurance coverage but do meet the criteria for testing. On regards to CBP presence at their hospital they said the following:

"Border Patrol’s presence on any of our campuses would be indicative of their guarding someone who is already in their custody who is receiving medical attention. Banner Health is committed to our fundamental value as a nonprofit organization and responsibility as a health-care provider for this community to treat every person in need of medical care with the utmost compassion, respect and privacy, regardless of where they were born or how they arrive at our doors."

But immigrant advocates, like Guzman, say this is a bad look on the border patrol, regardless of the reasons they had to be at this hospital.

“No van a querer ir a hacerse el examen y significa más contagiados y muertes en Arizona, (‘They’re not going to go get tested and will only result in more people getting infected and more deaths in Arizona’).”

For the ACLU risking deportation for seeking medical treatment in the midst of a pandemic it’s simply unacceptable: “that’s a choice no individual should ever have to make.” said Borjes.

Abc15 reached out to Tucson Mayor, Regina Romero and released the following statement:

"My office has reached out to CBP to seek clarification as to why a vehicle of theirs was parked next to a drive-through testing location but have not yet received a response. I urge CBP to keep their distance from sensitive locations that are providing health and other critical services to Tucsonans, especially during these challenging times. The mere presence of a CBP vehicle is enough to deter some individuals from seeking care, which undermines the public health of our community. It is critical that everyone, regardless of immigration status, is able to comfortably receive the care they need without fear, to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy."

If you have witnessed any border patrol enforcement at COVID-19 testing sites, contact Liliana Soto at Liliana.Soto@abc15.com.