EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — With the first COVID19 case now confirmed in Juarez, migrant advocates in El Paso are calling for suspension of the controversial “Remain in Mexico” program.

The U.S. government has sent some 20,000 people to wait out asylum claims in Juarez under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Many have left the city, others have found work and are on their own, but more than 1,000 remain at shelters. Some of those shelters are overcrowded and running out of basic cleaning supplies needed to keep the coronavirus at bay.

“I definitely don’t think we should continue sending people to Juarez. MPP has always had many problems, the biggest one that we’re sending people back to dangerous situations,” El Paso immigration lawyer Iliana Holguin said. “Now, things are worse with the coronavirus; we’re sending people to an even more dangerous situation than before.”

A tattered coronavirus prevention poster is taped to the door of the sleeping quarters at Good Samaritan migrant shelter in Juarez, Mexico. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

The U.S. government has postponed many immigration hearings and administrative processes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Flights of Hondurans and Salvadorans from the U.S. to Guatemala were suspended on Monday, but the MPP program continues to operate.

On Tuesday, Border Report witnessed a group of about 10 Cuban and Central American migrants handed off by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to Mexican officials at the Santa Fe port of entry.

“We were shocked to hear MPP court was continuing as usual,” said Marisa Limon Garza, deputy director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute. “These kinds of emergencies wreak the most havoc on the most vulnerable, and migrants and asylum seekers are part of that population. A lot of these folks have weakened immune systems based on their journeys, on the trauma they’ve experienced and the stress they’ve lived under.”

Border Report on Monday asked CBP if there were plans to halt MPP and what steps have been taken to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak at detention centers.

“Our facilities and duties will continue uninterrupted. CBP has national pandemic plans in place. We provide our staff the necessary personal protective equipment needed (to) continue their duties in the safest environment possible,” the agency said in an emailed response. “Medical personnel are on hand to assist with the monitoring and treatment of all individuals in our custody to ensure that the utmost care and safety is provided.”

Juarez officials on Tuesday said new migrants arriving in the city would be placed in a two-week quarantine to make sure they’re not infected with COVID-19. But the migrants suffer from other health problems that aren’t being addressed, El Paso advocates say.

“We know that many of these migrants are already ill from traveling thousands of miles. Some of the children are ill and we’re sending them back to Juarez where we know that the shelters don’t have resources to care adequately for the peple staying there,” she said. “There’s shortages of even the most basic supplies. To me, that’s a huge recipe for disaster.”

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