Salvadoran migrant “Carlos” had been locked in a U.S. detention center for more than two months, and he described it as having poor healthcare that only worsened due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Carlos was deported back to El Salvador last month, and the 31-year-old, who spoke to Xinhua under conditions of anonymity due to security issues, said he lost 20 kilos during his stay in the detention center. Carlos suffers from hypertension and experienced digestive issues while in detention, which he says U.S. authorities essentially ignored.
He said that he was placed in a cell with other migrants from the end of January to the beginning of April, and authorities failed to observe measures meant to limit the spread of the virus. He also claims he was not tested before being deported.
“There was no type of protection or handling … They did not administer any type of test,” Carlos told Xinhua.
Analysts and advocates have warned of the risk of continued deportations to Latin America during the pandemic without examining deportees. In Guatemala, Mexico, and other countries, infections have been reported among deportees, a situation that, according to experts, could affect countries with fragile health systems.
Carlos said that during his detention, he witnessed a diabetic Cuban detainee faint while guards looked on indifferently. On another occasion, a Salvadoran detainee collapsed with abdominal pain and was only taken to the infirmary several hours later.
He explained that he fled El Salvador fearing for his life after gang members threatened to kill him when he could no longer pay them extortion fees. Like many Central Americans, Carlos crossed the Rio Grande into the United States to request asylum, but officials arrested him as soon as he stepped onto American soil.
He was transferred to the Rio Grande Detention Center in the city of Laredo, Texas, where he says his stay was traumatic due to his health conditions and the lack of medical attention.
“I left El Salvador looking to save my life in the United States, but I almost lost it due to authorities in the United States,” he said.
He said that immigration authorities deported him on April 7 along with around 70 other Salvadorans, who were put on a plane after their temperatures were taken and they were given masks.
Carlos shared his experience over the phone from a quarantine center, where he has remained since his repatriation. In the face of the pandemic, the Salvadoran government decided in March to isolate people entering the country in quarantine centers to prevent the spread of the virus.
There have already been 1,145 cases of the novel coronavirus among detainees at U.S. immigration centers, according to figures released on Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The director of the Salvadoran Migrant Institute (Insami), Cesar Rios, told Xinhua that deportations from the United States represent a great risk due to the possibility of migrants being infected while in detention centers.
“It should not be surprising that deported migrants return infected … We must ask the United States to stop deportations now, because it is as if they are sending us another level of vulnerability that will be incorporated into communities,” said Rios.
“In addition to being in these detention centers, there really is no adequate or trained care for them. As we say, it’s just up to good luck, and the strongest will survive,” said Insami doctor Jizi Moza.
Thus far, the Salvadoran government has not reported any spread of the virus among deportees to the country, which has registered more than 1,500 confirmed cases and 31 deaths.