With the coronavirus spreading across the United States, the Trump administration’s ongoing deportations are spreading the disease to struggling countries in this hemisphere whose anemic health-care systems are ill-equipped to deal with it. Guatemala has pleaded with Washington to test detainees for the virus before deporting them. But U.S. officials have committed only to screen them for obvious symptoms; they are not tested before being loaded onto flights. As evidence mounts that the pandemic is taking hold in Guatemala partly on account of deportees, Guatemalan officials have repeatedly suspended U.S. deportation flights.
The story is similar in Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest nation, which, fearing the arrival of infected individuals, has asked U.S. officials to suspend deportation flights, only to be rebuffed. Already, Haitian officials say, three deportees from the United States early this month have tested positive for the virus upon arrival. An additional 129 deportees landed there Thursday on a flight from Texas; none had been tested before departing. Haiti’s dysfunctional government, presiding over a broken-down economy and wobbly health-care system, is hardly able to care for the sick under the best of circumstances. It is utterly incapable of handling an influx of covid-19 patients.
In Mexico, where officials have also asked that the United States not send infected deportees, the request has fallen on deaf ears — even as health-care workers blame recent deportations for an outbreak in a Mexican migrant shelter just south of the border with Texas, The Post reported.
Notably, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is in charge of deporting undocumented immigrants, is barely testing the more than 30,000 migrants it holds in detention centers, which health-care experts describe as petri dishes for unimpeded infections. Just 220 detainees had tested positive as of last Monday, a number that undoubtedly understates the actual spread of the infection in facilities where physical distancing is inadequate or nonexistent.
So lax is ICE’s attitude toward its detainees’ health, and so susceptible are the detainees to contracting the coronavirus, that the Lancet, a respected medical journal, said the “situation represents a moral and public health imperative for rapid action . . . to mitigate the human toll of the pandemic.” No such rapid action has occurred.
It is bad enough that migrant detainees, many of whom have been charged with no criminal offense, are put at risk of being infected with a potentially lethal disease in U.S. detention centers. It is callous and irresponsible that no systematic effort is underway to test those detainees. And it is despicable that the United States, the richest country in the hemisphere, would then blithely deport some of them to nations that are among the hemisphere’s poorest.