Hispanic Democrats demand flu vaccines for detained migrants

Hispanic Democrats demand flu vaccines for detained migrants
© Greg Nash

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) demanded Tuesday that the Trump administration provide flu vaccines and enhanced medical care for detained migrants in the wake of revelations that a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in Border Patrol custody died of the flu in May.

"This is flu season that we're going into, and the administration has decided not to do a basic thing for people who are ill or could get ill, which is to give them a flu shot," said Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroJoaquin Castro follows brother in backing Warren Rep. Castro to brother Julián: 'You've made your family and community proud' Hispanic Democrats demand flu vaccines for detained migrants MORE (D-Texas), the CHC chairman.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency in charge of immigration enforcement at the border, declined a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last month to provide flu shots to every detained migrant.

CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters Monday that the agency has assigned more than 250 medical personnel to the southwest border and has mandated screenings of migrants upon first contact, admission into processing centers and release. 

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"We're currently re-looking at those medical protocols to see where we can improve and every single day we're trying to improve the medical care that we provide," said Morgan.

Still, Morgan said flu vaccinations should not necessarily be implemented by CBP, which he said is only part of a "continuum" of federal agencies involved in immigrant detention.

"And so what we're trying to do is work with [the Department of Homeland Security], work with the medical community and find out what makes the most logic and what makes the most sense where that should be done on that continuum," said Morgan.

But given the deaths of migrants in CBP custody, CHC officials are calling on the agency to act quickly.

In the case of Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez, the 16-year-old Guatemalan who died in May, a nurse practitioner at the Border Patrol station diagnosed him with the flu and recommended periodic checkups to determine whether Carlos needed transfer to the emergency room.

Carlos was instead transferred to quarantine at a less-crowded nearby facility where he died, according to a report by ProPublica.

The Border Patrol is a component agency of CBP and often the first point of contact between migrants at the southwest border and federal authorities.

CHC officials said administering flu shots to migrants as soon as they're detained could save lives.

"This is a matter of life and death whether the administration is willing to administer this flu shot," said Castro.

It's unclear whether a flu shot would have helped Carlos, who was already infected with the flu.

But Rep. Raul RuizRaul RuizHispanic Democrats demand flu vaccines for detained migrants Private equity-funded doctors coalition spends million lobbying on 'surprise' medical billing CBO: Fix backed by doctors for surprise medical bills would cost billions MORE (D-Calif.), an emergency room doctor, made the case for vaccinations, noting that conditions at detention centers are "a breeding ground" for the influenza virus.

"In fact, the CDC did a report studying from December 2018 [to] January 2019, they found the cases of flu in those holding cells within CBP was more prevailing than in the nation. So we know that those areas are high risk to get the flu, especially when your immune system is weakened by a lack of caloric intake, lack of rest," said Ruiz.