August 11, 2020
Four months after Judicial Watch reported that unwavering cross border traffic is putting U.S. Customs and Border Protecting (CBP) agents along the Mexican border at high risk of contracting COVID-19, the head of the agency admits at least 10 have died from the Chinese virus. Though the State Department restricted transit between the U.S. and Mexico back in early April, southern border crossings remain hotbeds of traffic that jeopardize the health of federal agents charged with screening the influx and potentially spread the virus to American communities. CBP sources have long expressed concern about the risks to frontline agents, especially after a Mexican hospital overrun by COVID-19 was forced to close near the busiest U.S. border crossing in Arizona months ago.
Mexican media reported that a nurse died at the facility, Hospital de San Luis Rio Colorado, and more than 30 doctors and nurses were sick with the virus. At least 20 doctors were also infected. Nevertheless, the nearby San Luis crossing remains the busiest along the southern border with consistently lengthy wait times. Veteran CBP agent Patricia Cramer, who also serves as president of the Arizona chapter of the agency’s employee union, says the San Luis crossing is “crazy busy” with wait times up to six hours. Cramer reminds that agents must have contact with every single person that enters the country and months ago warned that not only are front line officers being exposed, but entire communities as well. With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade. The agency’s largest component is the Office of Field Operations (OFO) which is responsible for border security and has a staff of about 28,000. The Border Patrol is next with a workforce of 20,000 patrolling 6,000 miles of American land borders.
COVID-19 has hit the agency hard sources tell Judicial Watch, though there has been little media coverage or official acknowledgement from management. Last week CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan finally revealed that 10 agents have died in the line of duty after contracting COVID-19. Morgan did not mention the busy and legal cross border traffic that agents have complained about for months while the government claims to enforce travel restrictions. Instead he focused on illegal immigration and seemed to blame agent infections on an epidemic of undocumented aliens, though OFO has also been hit hard and those agents deal with legal cross border traffic. In July CBP had around 40,000 encounters with illegal border crossers, Morgan said during a press conference that lasted roughly 40 minutes. Even though some illegal immigrants know or suspect they have COVID-19, Morgan says they still come into the U.S. “They’re exposing everyone they come in contact with during their journey, as they illegally try to enter this country,” he said, adding that “they endanger the lives of CBP personnel and their families and those in our border communities and beyond.” Many illegal immigrants leave border towns and cities, possibly infecting hundreds of others in the U.S. workforce, according to Morgan.
The CBP commissioner went on and on blaming illegal immigrants for his agency’s COVID-19 crisis, revealing that migrants continue to ignore stay at home orders in their country while American citizens make tremendous sacrifices to fight the spread of the disease. Further spreading COVID-19 are the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that criminal organizations and smugglers provide for migrants in overcrowded stash houses and tractor trailers that sit in hot deserts. “These places are akin to an oven in the sweltering heat of the Southern border,” Morgan said. He provided the media pictures of illegal immigrant stash houses and offered a compelling “backdrop of COVID-19” featuring illegal aliens packed in deplorable conditions. The CBP commissioner also revealed that in July 78% of enforcement encounters were migrants from Mexico, many single adult men. “This new surge of single adult Mexican males are not simply turning themselves over to the United States border patrol like we saw families do this time last year,” Morgan said. “They’re running, they’re fighting. They’re doing everything that they can to avoid apprehension.” Cramer, the veteran CBP agent and union president, assures illegal immigration is not the biggest COVID-19 risk to frontline agents. Despite U.S. travel “restrictions,” customs officers in the OFO unit handle massive amounts of traffic daily, especially in the Nogales and San Luis ports of entry. “Nothing has changed in four months,” Cramer told Judicial Watch this week. “Even though Mexico is boiling with COVID-19 cross border traffic is busier than ever,” she said.