Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take groups of them into custody on June 12, 2018, near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. Photo by John Moore | Getty Images
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and 20 other groups sent a letter to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Tucson requesting the agency affirm it isn’t arresting border community members near hospitals and health centers.
Yvette Borja, an ACLU attorney, said the April 13 letter stemmed from reports from a few weeks ago about Border Patrol vehicles parked at Diamond Children’s Medical Center in Tucson.
“We didn’t confirm that there was an enforcement action happening at the hospital,” Borja said. “Our position is that, regardless of whatever precise enforcement was happening at that time, even just the parked presence of CBP cars (at) the hospital will have a negative chilling effect on undocumented people feeling free to go and get the necesary medical services that they need during this pandemic.”
Rebecca Ruiz Hudman, a spokeswoman with Banner Health, the hospital group that owns the Diamond Children’s Medical Center, said if Border Patrol is present at any of their medical centers it’s because they’re “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,” Ruiz Hudman said in an email. “In addition, we work to ensure a safe environment for everyone on our campuses.”
Ruiz Hudmand said the Diamond Children’s Medical Center is not one of the Banner hospitals providing COVID-19 testing.
Borja said people should never forgo seeking medical care for fear of arrest or deportation, but especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. She referenced a letter from public health experts urging the federal officials to declare hospitals and medical centers “immigration-free zones.”
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like CBP understands this, but transmission of COVID-19 does not discriminate based on whether you are documented or not,” Borja said. “As always, we need to ensure the health of our undocumented community members in order to ensure that everybody in the community is actually safe.”
On March 18, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for arresting and deporting people, said it won’t 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,” ICE states in its guidance.
Borja said CBP should make similar assurances to Arizona border communities that it won’t arrest people who are seeking access to essential services.
“Border Patrol can publicly affirm people in knowing that they can go to the hospital, go to the grocery store, they can get the essential services that they need during COVID-19, they can go to work,” she said.
CBP didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Borja said Roy Villareal, chief patrol agent for the Tucson sector, acknowledged the April 13 letter was received but hasn’t responded.
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