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Federal authorities arrest 6 protesters, including doctors, outside Border Patrol building in Eastlake

Border Patrol HQ protest.jpg
Doctors and other activists protest Tuesday outside the Border Patrol San Diego Sector headquarters in Chula Vista.
(Wendy Fry/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Doctors are seeking to administer flu shots to detained migrant children at a San Ysidro detention facility

Six people, including at least two doctors, were detained by federal authorities Tuesday afternoon while blocking an entrance to the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector headquarters in Chula Vista.

A larger group, which includes Doctors for Camp Closure, Families Belong Together and Never Again Action, has been asking U.S. Customs and Border Protection to allow licensed medical doctors to vaccinate detained migrant children for the flu after three children died from the disease in custody last year.

Federal Protective Service officers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave a six-minute warning, telling the people protesting to move back down the road. Then, federal officers handcuffed six people who were lying down on the ground in front of the headquarters facility and took them into custody.

The building is on Boswell Road and Lane Avenue in Chula Vista’s Eastlake neighborhood.

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Shortly later, the six people were released with a citation “for failure to comply with the lawful directions of a federal police officer” and a notice to appear in federal court.

Marie DeLuca, an emergency medicine research fellow from New York City, was among those detained. She said the doctors and protesters did not get a chance to discuss with the federal officers the possibility of being allowed to provide vaccinations to children in U.S. immigration custody.

“They did not want to engage with the conversation,” said DeLuca. “I personally am proud of all the people who have been fighting for this. I am proud of the people I’m standing here with because I think this is the kind of action we need to take when we see children are dying and people are suffering because Border Patrol is detaining people in unsafe conditions.”

Tuesday’s protest in Chula Vista came a day after many of the same doctors and their supporters marched from Vista Terrace Neighborhood Park to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility in San Ysidro, where they called on federal authorities to let them in or let the children out to participate in a free mobile clinic set up outside.

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No migrant children are detained at the headquarters where the doctors and others were protesting Tuesday; they protesters had gone there seeking a meeting with the local chief Border Patrol officer.

Among those briefly taken into custody was Dr. Mario Mendoza, a retired clinical anesthesiologist, who came to the United States illegally as a child from El Salvador when he was 7 years old.

“Even though I’m not calm about any of this, I have to be fearless because people are dying at this point,” said Mendoza, shortly before he was taken into custody. “This is a consequence I’m willing to accept. I can’t live without doing this. I can’t sleep at night.”

Last month, a group of seven doctors tried to pressure Customs and Border Protection officials to allow them to give flu vaccines to detained migrant children. The group demanded access to the detention facility in San Ysidro and called the agency’s refusal to do so “cause for significant alarm,” according to a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Nov. 5.

Department of Homeland Security officials did not respond directly to the doctors’ demonstrations Monday, but the DHS’ press secretary on Tuesday shared a news story about the demonstration on Twitter, tweeting: “Of course Border Patrol isn’t going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs.”

Among those protesting this week is Dr. Peter Bretan, the president of the California Medical Association and a transplant surgeon. Bretan said Monday he plans on discussing the group’s concerns with California Gov. Gavin Newsom next week.

Last month, Customs and Border Protection officials issued a response to the Nov. 5 letter from the medical professionals.

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“It has never been a CBP practice to administer vaccines and this not a new policy,” the official statement read in part. “Individuals in CBP custody should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in either CBP hold rooms or holding facilities. ... As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short-term nature of CBP holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible.”


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