An Update from Blanca Castillo: Migrant Relief Work in the Midst of a Pandemic

Today is the 27th of March 2020, and for many across the country it marks the second Friday of anxiety ridden stays at home due to the alarming spread of COVID-19. Though El Paso has always considered itself a world apart from the rest of Texas, I’m now starting to see fear of the pandemic creep into our communities and bring life to a rapid halt. The borders have become increasingly inaccessible as restrictions are set over crossings. I, like many of my colleagues, find myself like a bird with clipped wings unable to venture into the migrant shelters in Juarez to assess and immediately respond to their needs. Concerns grow as the Mexican government begins to set protocols for the admission of persons coming from the United States, citizens and non-citizens included. 

Though we are not able to cross the border, we have been actively collaborating with the Juarez state and municipal governments, immigration lawyers and policy advocates, NGOs, and other U.S. non-profit organizations to strategize new ways to reach the people and families in the shelters. Federal and State departments of health have had two emergency meetings in the past week to address the COVID-19 response for the migrant population in Juarez. Some of the proposed actions  are listed below:

Phase 1: PREVENTION

Preventative public health measures will be endorsed by the government. Actions like hand washing, social distancing, and etc. will be encouraged and campaigned throughout public sites and businesses in the city.COVID-19 prevention materials and information will be distributed to the shelters via social media, printed notices, donation/supplies drops and etc.

Phase 2: RELIEF

The government will issue mandatory quarantine measures for the shelters and new arrivals from other countries and U.S. detention centers. Quarantine spaces will be established for migrant persons exhibiting symptoms in each shelter. 

Mexican immigration will test and quarantine every person arriving from a U.S. detention center for the virus for 14 days. 

Health coordinators from each shelter will be trained to test for symptoms and on how to address suspected cases. Shelter spaces will be divided up to prevent overcrowding. Preliminary health centers have been designated for migrant persons with confirmed cases, so as to stem the  flow of cases from the city’s hospitals and prevent overburden of the system. 

Donations for food, equipment, medical and hygiene supplies will be urgently needed in all the shelters and quarantine spaces. NGOs and nonprofits like Abara play a major role in meeting these needs and supporting local medical centers by creating accommodative spaces and equipping first responders at the shelters. We are currently stepping into Phase 2.  

Phase 3: RELIEF/RECOVERY

At this point, the Mexican government predicts about %70 or more of its population will have contracted the virus or act as carriers. There will be very little control over its spread. Authorities are still strategizing on ways to approach migrant shelters under this phase. Emergency COVID-19 hotlines are open to calls toll-free 24/7.

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