A 60-year-old woman seeking asylum had an asthma attack on the international line at the Gateway International Bridge on Thursday. Photographs posted by the woman’s attorney on Facebook showed her collapsed on the ground as officers on the U.S. side filmed her on a cell phone.
The woman, from Venezuela, presented herself at the international line to request parole into the United States for the second time on Thursday. She lives in a tent in the camp of asylum seekers on a levee just past the bridge and is considered at high risk to contract COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Her attorney, Jennifer Scarborough, said that her client has lung problems and also suffers from diabetes — both of which are conditions listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be at risk of contracting severe illness as the virus spreads worldwide.
“People with asthma may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. COVID-19 can affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs), cause an asthma attack, and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease,” the agency wrote on its website.
According to the CDC, there is currently no treatment or vaccine to prevent COVID-19. “The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus,” the agency recommended.
The Trump administration declared a national emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide Disaster Declaration mandating limited public gatherings as well as business and school closures.
Scarborough’s client is homeless and does not have adequate access to medical care. A supervisor present at the bridge denied her client parole on Thursday and did not provide Scarborough with a reason for the denial or any paperwork on the decision, she said.
Photographs posted on Facebook showed her client lying on the ground as officers in the background looked on. A second photo showed a supervisor filming the woman on his cell phone.
Officers did not render the woman assistance. CBP was contacted for comment regarding proper protocol for officers stationed at the line during emergency scenarios. An official responded, “Questions regarding incidents occurring within the sovereign nation of Mexico should be directed to Government of Mexico authorities.”
“The doctors from the camp came and took her back. And CBP did not let her enter,” said Scarborough.
“Attorneys have been saying since that tent camp sprung up this summer that it’s just a public health crisis waiting to happen. And they have doctors there, and they’ve been able to install basic sanitation systems. We all know it’s not sufficient with people living in such close vicinity in a communal environment. As soon as there’s an outbreak, it’s going to be catastrophic,” she said.
Currently, residents of the camp in Matamoros seek care through a medical trailer run by Global Response Management, an NGO serving the roughly 2,500 camp residents.
Helen Perry, GRM’s Executive Director, said on Thursday that she estimates there are 1,000 more asylum seekers living in the city that volunteer doctors treat in addition to a population of Matamoros residents.
GRM does not receive funding from either the United States or Mexico as would generally be the case in a refugee camp. In Matamoros, the camp is unregulated, forcing doctors to face the crisis without government assistance.
Perry explained that staff and volunteers met with local health officials before realizing there wasn’t a clear plan to handle the crisis. Currently, volunteers are working to set up a field hospital in an effort to treat and quarantine anyone who they suspect contracts the illness.
“GRM decided that we needed to be prepared to respond. We were told that the city of Matamoros has 10 ventilators and 40 ICU beds. They have a population of like 500,000 people. We felt that our best option to provide care for our population was to set up a 20-bed field hospital where we would be able to treat patients who are moderately ill to prevent them from becoming critically ill.”
According to Perry, CBP allowed her staff to use a wheelchair on Thursday, but declined to step in and assist to help the woman because she was on the Mexico side. “I’m not sure that also allows them to laugh and take pictures of her,” she said.
“They can’t cross over — that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of providing or coordinating back to their Mexican counterpart.”
Volunteers who are sick are being cautioned to stay out of the camp for the time being. Perry encouraged anyone interested in assisting to donate, which can be done via GRM’s website.