National headlines broke in December when the group Doctors for Camp Closure (D4CC) protested at the San Ysidro border near San Diego, California. This direct action was a response to the denial by Border Patrol to allow medical professionals to administer flu vaccinations to individuals detained inside the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station. Following the death of at least three children in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, seven medical professionals wrote a letter to the acting secretaries of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In their November letter, they requested a grant of access to individuals in border custody in order to administer 100 flu vaccines from their mobile clinic. They claimed that three deaths from the flu was a rate nine times higher than expected for this disease. When they received no response to the letter by the requested deadline, the healthcare professionals decided to show up at the border in person.
December 9th was the first day of protest. D4CC members were armed with vaccines, equipment and the proper paperwork, and two people were sent to discuss the clinic with Border Patrol at the Chula Vista headquarters. Border Patrol stated that they would discuss the clinic during their meeting next morning. Following their meeting, they informed the group who waited at the headquarters of their decision to deny the request. It was then that D4CC was moved to take their actions further and rally outside the headquarters. A few protestors, including Marie De Luca, one of the founders of D4CC, laid down in the headquarter driveway to block the entrance as an act of resistance to this denial. Six protestors, including De Luca, were arrested following this action and then released later that day.
CBP has held to their decision and has not allowed D4CC or any medical professionals to provide vaccinations to individuals in detainment. Several legislators have released statements in support of vaccinations following the protests in early December. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends that all immigrants receive vaccinations at the first point of entry, stated in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy manual. However, Border Patrol has claimed they don’t hold people long enough to administer vaccinations, although they are holding people for longer than legally required. They have stated that it is too difficult to implement a vaccination process into their facilities, and that there are over 250 medical professionals working in detainment centers. But De Luca states that people without adequate training are performing medical screening and that there are not enough professionals in the facilities trained to care for children, who have suffered the most severely from flu season. “They have heard this from many experts and they continue to ignore this advice despite deaths in their own facilities. We know that vaccination could occur – as illustrated with our offer of a pilot program flu clinic. The only reason people were not vaccinated on December 9th was their refusal to open the gates and allow licensed professionals to offer the standard of care for flu prevention.”
According to De Luca, D4CC was formed as a response to “the growing physician outrage about harmful, deadly immigration policies.” Physicians expressed frustration in online communities about the government refusing to listen to the demands of health experts to halt the separation of families at the border and instead create a system welcoming immigrants. There was then discussion to form a group that planned marches, protests and other forms of nonviolent direct action in defense of these asylum seekers.
De Luca shared that doctors have taken direct action in other forms before, but this is the first time in quite a while that there has been “public protest that actively disrupts the system” by medical professionals. She discusses how the culture of medicine often creates barriers to standing against systems of oppression. Although many entering the medical field are passionate about justice and enter in order to help make progressive change, they are often warned that activism will hurt their career. This is of concern when individuals have spent so many years acquiring their licensing and are often facing extensive burdens of financial debt from medical schooling. However, De Luca expresses, “…I think as a medical community we’re starting to see the limits we’ve placed on our own activism and one of our goals in this movement is to expand the physician activist toolkit and to help people reclaim that energy they have to fight for liberation.”
Members of D4CC have been active in a variety of immigration advocacy efforts, and have plans to continue. They are currently working to establish chapters throughout states, and are planning more actions to disrupt the policies in place. “As physicians, as people, we know that these policies of detention and deportation are violent and harmful and we aren’t going to stop fighting. Everyone deserves to be welcomed with dignity and respect.”
Gamboa, Suzanne. “Doctors Offer to Give Free Flu Shots to Detained Migrants, Warn Trump Admin. of Epidemic.” NBC News, 19 Nov. 2019, www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/doctors-offer-give-free-flu-shots-detained-migrants-warn-trump-n1085206.
Jordan, Miriam. “Why Border Patrol Refuses to Offer Flu Shots to Migrants.” The New York Times , 11 Dec. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/12/11/us/migrants-flu-vaccines-border-patrol.html.
Sierra, Julie, et al. “Flu Clinic DHS Letter.” Received by Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Alex Azar, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , 5 Nov. 2019.