Class, COVID 19 and border wall construction in the RGV
Updated: Mar 30
By Jonathan Salinas
The world continues to be shaken by the spread of Coronavirus, COVID 19. Countries are under lockdown. Communities are under curfew. Most businesses have closed. More and more people die every day. In the capitalist United States, which includes South Texas, class and wealth are significant variants with respect to whether one receives medical treatment.
Ever since global outbreaks of the novel COVID 19 occurred in Wuhan, China, late December, celebrities who've tested positive for the disease have been treated. Actor, Tom Hanks, and his spouse, Rita Wilson, contracted the virus earlier this month, while traveling to Australia. In the sports world, basketball superstar, and New Jersey Nets forward, Kevin Durant, tested positive, as well as four of his teammates, and other NBA players. Politicians, like Kentucky Senator, Rand Paul, tested positive March 22. Without delay, U.S. actors, entertainers, and politicians who’ve so far tested positive for COVID 19, have unquestionably and swiftly received medical attention, assuring fans and constituents through social media.
But everybody else’s medical prospects remain uncertain. Working class people are slower to receive tests, results, and treatment. Some in fact have died awaiting test results and treatment. On March 22, the New York Post reported a 39-year-old New Orleans social worker, Natasha Ott, tragically died awaiting results, as she’d initially turned down a test so somebody else in more need could take it instead, delaying her eventual testing by nearly a week. Because of a lack in testing kits, hospitals and even local drive thru testing sites prioritize those who’ve recently traveled, or had contact with somebody whose diagnosis is federally confirmed. Considering the outbreak originated in Asia and spread across Europe, it seems reasonable that people who’ve recently traveled abroad should be tested. But who does the traveling abroad?
Flying, especially to wealthy European countries for holiday—like Spain and Italy—is often a luxury. No wonder so many celebrities are coming down with the virus. Like in other places around the country, RGV residents who’d recently traveled to Europe were among the first reported. Cameron and Hidalgo County’s first few cases were related to travel through Europe, such as Spain and Ireland. Like New York, where community spread is believed to have taken place by those who’d recently traveled abroad, Hidalgo County reports a total of 27 confirmed COVID 19 cases, Cameron County reports 13, three in Starr County, and one in Willacy County, as of March 29. Because recent travelers abroad did not take precautions, community spread of COVID 19 occurred.
In Cameron County, early March, an elderly couple who visited South Padre Island after attending a wedding in Idaho tested positive. Upon arrival to Cameron County, the couple self-quarantined for almost two weeks, before leaving the Valley for lack of treatment; they didn’t meet the “criteria.” Both were eventually treated in Michigan, their hometown, where they received COVID 19 diagnoses. In Laredo, just upstream from Starr County, community spread is believed to have occurred, as two United I.S.D. employees have so far tested positive.
One of Laredo’s 30 total positive cases, as of yet, is believed to be a border patrol agent. His case is travel related. As federal agents are subject to better healthcare than the majority of society, case 3, as they are referred to, tested positive at a private lab, which most people couldn’t afford. Migrant families, by contrast, have resorted to COVID 19 testing in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, for lack of medical attention in Laredo, Texas, as said by one resident who live-streamed his family’s story on Facebook, earlier this week, which has since been brought down.
Foreign born workers jailed by ICE remain detained, as fears of virus outbreaks in jails grow. Immigration advocates in Laredo, like the Laredo Immigrant Alliance, have called for the release of migrants from immigration jails. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has requested 45,000 N95 masks, while nurses and doctors run terribly low. ICE is notorious for migrant deaths in their custody—and this is during “normal” times, when there are no pandemics. The group, Never Again Action, held in-car protests March 22 in California and New Jersey, calling for the release of migrants from ICE detention, rightfully fearing outbreaks in the centers. CNN reports three children in the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement custody have tested positive for COVID 19 as of March 27.
Valley Congressman, Vicente Gonzalez, announced March 19 that he would be in self-quarantine through March 25, as he came into close contact with an unnamed member of Congress who tested positive. Gonzalez continued tweeting through the 27, some tweets discussing his vote in favor of the CARES Act, signed into law by President Trump March 27. Texas Governor, Greg Abbot, declared none essential establishments closed March 19, but stopped short of a state-wide shelter in place order March 22, despite calls by some elected officials, like Gonzalez, to do so.
Nationally, New York state has become the epicenter of the disease, with more than 52,000 confirmed cases, which have doubled every few days, for the last several days, a trend expected to continue. More than 2,000 people have died in the U.S. out of 130,400 cases nationwide, as of March 29. President Trump told reporters March 28 he was considering a short-term quarantine of the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which only resulted in a federal travel advisory.
While the country and the world pause normal life to spend every second fighting this pandemic, border wall construction, on the Southern U.S. border, continues. Community organizations, including Ûnete 956, signed on to a letter March 26, calling for an immediate halt to border wall construction to save lives during the COVID 19 pandemic. Led by the Texas Civil Rights Project, the letter is addressed to the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security. It says:
“Your actions risk government agents and contractors spreading the coronavirus in Southern border communities, place undue strain on border communities whose main focus is survival, and strip away precious resources from the federal government that should be used to respond to the crisis and ensure that communities are prepared to stop the spread of the virus.”
This week, the Department of Justice filed 3 motions of taking, a procedure within the eminent domain process, which is being used by the federal government to seize private land for border wall construction. Starr County resident and public school teacher, Nayda Alvarez, has suffered continued harassment by federal government surveyors on her property, even as the entire Rio Grande Valley entered shelter in place orders this week. She told the Border Report that, “I did not pick this fight. It came to me. I will not give up. I will fight this till the end till we get our lands back if they take them. Or till I die.”
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