Juarez shelter grappling with migrants expelled from U.S. infected with COVID-19

Border Report Tour

U.S. authorities testing only symptomatic patients, expelling the rest to Mexican border cities, where shelters are overcrowded and lacking resources

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – When Mexican immigration officials arrived at her doorstep with 15 migrants who had tested positive for the coronavirus, Grissel Ramirez faced a choice: She could either send them away or take them in and risk an outbreak among the other 120 guests at her shelter.

The Juarez woman with deep religious convictions decided to take in the infected Hondurans and Salvadorans.

“We could not turn them away,” Ramirez told Border Report on Friday. “We are looking for a place where these migrants can be in safe isolation. In the meantime, we have them in a room with its own bathroom, but too many new people are coming in every day.”

Like the Esperanza Para Todos (Hope for All) home in the Anapra neighborhood, Juarez facilities are increasingly dealing with migrants expelled from the United States that might or might not be infected with COVID-19.

That’s because U.S. officials are expelling hundreds of migrants each day without testing them for the coronavirus and the “filter hotel” in Juarez designed to quarantine suspected COVID-19 patients often is full these days.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection this fiscal year has expelled to Mexico 129,231 migrants apprehended in the El Paso Sector under the Title 42 public health order to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19.

In July alone 16,774 Central Americans, Mexicans and other foreigners were expelled to Juarez due to the rising number of overall apprehensions. That’s an average of 541 a day.

CBP officials say the migrants are given a routine health screening but not tested for COVID-19 unless they are running a fever or have flu-like and other symptoms. The sick ones are routed to a medical facility; the asymptomatic ones are sent across the border.

Juarez shelters strained beyond capacity due to high number of migrants

“The occupancy is high right now,” said Camilo Cruz, an official with the International Organization for Migration in Juarez that oversees the migrant health screening facility in Juarez. “Up to 130 people are coming every day and there is no room for all of them at the filter hotel; not all can be accommodated.”

The facility operating out of the old Flamingo Hotel in Juarez was designed to quarantine migrants expelled from the United States as well as those just arriving at the border from Central America and other places. Once completing an observation period, the migrants are channeled to the dozen or so government or church-run shelters in the city.

But nowadays, an undetermined number of migrants are foregoing that process and shelters like Esperanza Para Todos are feeling the uncertainty.

Migrant families pass the time in one of the rooms at Esperanza para Todos shelter in Juarez. (Border Report photo)

“There is concern” among the migrants, Ramirez said. “We do our best to separate them, but this used to be a daycare. We have to work with what we have, and that is only five bedrooms and six toilets. We try to keep them (the infected migrants) in their own area.”

Grissel Ramirez

Ramirez said the number of migrants arriving in Juarez – both those who have been expelled from the U.S. and those who are just coming here with the intent to cross the border – is too much for anyone to handle.

This and other local shelters accommodate a large number of Central Americans, but many individuals and families from the interior of Mexico are also either fleeing drug violence or in search of work or a better life in the United States.

“There are times we’ve had up to 220 people in the building. We are short on cots, on food. It’s hard to feed them meat at all,” she said. “I wish we had medication for those that get sick and shoes and clothes and diapers for the babies.”

The shelter is also looking for portable showers.

Like most other church-run shelters in Juarez, Esperanza Para Todos relies on donations. Ramirez can be reached at (011-52-656) 264-6628.

Late Friday afternoon, Ramirez said Mexican government officials picked up two of the sick migrants from her shelter and told her they would be coming back for a family unit.

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