Immigration Authorities Won't Release the Number of Agents With COVID-19

Border Patrol arrests a migrant who had jumped over the border fence near Nogales on February 12, 2019.
Border Patrol arrests a migrant who had jumped over the border fence near Nogales on February 12, 2019. Steven Hsieh
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has an important announcement about whether any of its staff have contracted COVID-19:

Don't ask.

The immigration agency said on Friday it won't release such information to the public. It won't be sharing data or information about novel coronavirus cases within its ranks, according to a statement provided to Phoenix New Times. The ban on information would ostensibly include both customs agents and the nearly 17,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents stationed along the southern border, all of whom fall under CBP.

The highly contagious coronavirus has hit staffers in nearly every federal agency, including others housed under the Department of Homeland Security. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, currently has three confirmed cases in detention officers who care for migrants in the agency’s custody.

And the virus is expected to spread to CBP. Some reports suggest it already has. Tucson Chief Patrol Agent Roy Villareal allegedly texted employees on Tuesday to inform them that two Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector of Arizona had contracted the virus, the Washington Examiner first reported.

The same day, a CBP agent at Miami International Airport tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Miami Herald. And on Thursday, a Border Patrol supervisor in the Laredo Sector of Texas tested positive for the virus, and “at least 15 other agents” were sent home to self-quarantine due to potential exposure, CNN first reported after speaking to the National Border Patrol Union.

Despite employees’ frequent interaction with citizens and foreign civilians, the federal agency has said it will not disclose confirmed COVID-19 cases to the American people.

“CBP’s highest priority is to ensure the health, safety, and security of the American people and our workforce,” Cecilia Barreda, CBP spokesperson, offered in an emailed statement. “CBP has issued guidance to all our employees that outlines the current comprehensive use of Personal Protective Equipment. We are taking every precaution to keep our workforce safe.”

Earlier this week, five Border Patrol agents in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California who spoke anonymously to the Washington Examiner alleged the agency had done little to brief staff about how national security operations would continue if the virus entered their ranks.

They also said the CBP had done little to brief them about how to protect themselves against contracting the virus on the job, which involves them interacting with tens of thousands of people crossing the Southwest border into the United States each month. Agents alleged they were unclear if they’d be afforded worker’s compensation or required to use their own sick leave if they tested positive for COVID-19 due to Border Patrol’s well-known staffing shortages.

CBP has not yet responded to questions about worker’s compensation or sick leave.
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Hannah Critchfield was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.