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Home | Tag Archives: Mexico

Tag Archives: Mexico

1,600+ Migrants Released in El Paso Since Sunday, More Expected

The Christmas week surge of migrants released by ICE into El Paso was somewhat to be expected. However, to understand what happened this week, you have to understand the process.

For the last three months, Annunciation House, the non-profit organization that houses migrants after their release from ICE custody as they work their way to their final destination, has seen a record number 2,000 releases a week.

Late on the night of December 22, ICE officials dropped off 211 immigrant families who had passed through custody at a Downtown Greyhound station without notifying Annunciation House, which is the procedure that has been honored in the past by the government.

Currently, asylum-seeking migrants are turning themselves in to Border Patrol in mass numbers. The San Diego Border Patrol sector is still holding a tight line on entries after the highly publicized “migrant caravan” made its way to Tijuana in early December.

In contrast, the El Paso Border Patrol sector has been allowing what they call ‘metered entry’ at local ports of entry.

Typically taking about 60 asylum seeking migrants into processing per day. Other migrants will turn themselves in to Border Patrol in desolate areas where ports are not accessible for hundreds of miles.

Once in custody, adults are vetted to ensure they have no prior removal orders from the U.S. Government, and have no known criminal ties to gangs in Central America. Those who are suspect because of tattoos or other markings are separated from the asylum-seekers and kept in long term detention at area prisons, jails or Border Patrol custody.

Single men are also separated and detained in this manner.

Those who are entering with children, whether they are men or women, are allowed to be released into the custody of a “sponsor” after they are fitted with ankle monitors. The sponsors are everywhere in the country and are typically family members or close friends.

On one recent visit to an Annunciation House shelter, the Herald Post met with Honduran and Guatemalan families who were heading to Nebraska, South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, and other locations across Texas.

Typically, the asylum seekers are held in ICE detention for a maximum 72-hour period before being released to a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO); in El Paso, that’s Annunciation House. In recent weeks, the population has surged in ICE detention centers and migrants are now being held anywhere between 4-8 days.

In the case of Felix Alonzo-Gomez, the 8-year-old Guatemalan child who died in ICE custody Christmas Eve in Alamogordo, the El Paso-area detention centers were so overpopulated that his family was moved to a Border Patrol Station outside of Alamogordo, NM.

Once released by ICE, the migrants are housed anywhere from 24-48 hours by Annunciation House in El Paso while their sponsors can secure bus or plane tickets to get them to their final destination. Once there, they will check in with a local office and await court proceedings. It acts as a sort of an underground railroad through the Sun City.

The hospitality sites are known to many, but revealed by few. Safety is a top concern to Annunciation House and their volunteers.

What became apparent in El Paso this week is the overwhelming number coming in to seek asylum is overwhelming ICE at their detention facilities and local NGO partners like Annunciation House, who are struggling to get migrants on to their final location before more are released the following day.

Ruben Garcia with Annunciation House said they received 522 migrants on December 26, an all-time record number for the center in his 40-plus year history with the organization. Thursday, Annunciation House received an additional 322.

In a statement to the El Paso Herald Post, ICE blamed inaction by Congress and attempts to stay in compliance with federal laws for detaining families as a reason for this sudden action.

“After decades of inaction by Congress, the government remains severely constrained in its ability to detain and promptly remove families with no legal basis to remain in the U.S. To mitigate the risk of holding family units past the timeframe allotted to the government, ICE has curtailed reviews of post-release plans from families apprehended at the southwest border. ICE is redoubling its efforts to work with local and state officials and NGO partners in the area so they are prepared to provide assistance with transportation and other services,” the statement read.

Congresswoman-elect Veronica Escobar has been in contact with ICE officials, including several phone calls on Christmas Eve to help coordinate transfers from ICE into Annunciation House custody. In the past, she said ICE worked to locate additional emergency detention space in order for NGOs to have room for the released family units. That practice is no longer an option, ICE told her.

As a result, more than 1,600 migrants have been released into the streets of El Paso since Sunday afternoon, with more expected in the coming days. Annunciation House has activated 15 hospitality sites including four hotels in El Paso and an additional 5 hospitality sites in Las Cruces, according to Garcia.

In an effort to mitigate the high population in detention holding cells by ICE, Garcia is working to increase capacity to 3,000 per week in El Paso. The increase represents a 50% increase in population housed by Annunciation House in the El Paso area.

During one of this week’s massive releases of migrants in Downtown El Paso, the Herald Post encountered many children who were battling colds or fevers. One child had pink-eye. Organizers on the ground tell us they have been seeing an increase in these sorts of illnesses when migrants are being released.

Most of the children had been in ICE custody for over a week before coming down with illnesses. Annunciation House is working with volunteer nurses and doctors to provide basic medical care and screening at each hospitality site.

Annunciation House operates 100% off of donations and is not funded by any government funding. Anyone wishing to make financial donations is asked to do so on their website.

At this time, Annunciation House is asking local organizations or church groups who are able to volunteer as a group to feed migrants at one of their hospitality sites contact them at refugees@annunciationhouse.org.

Rep. Hurd: Mexico City Trip Strengthens Bilateral Relationship

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Representative Will Hurd joined a bipartisan group of 11 Members of Congress to Mexico City Monday for the U.S.-Mexico Interparliamentary Group (IPG) meeting.

While in Mexico, the group along with 15 Members of Mexico’s Congress, were inaugurated into the 53rd US-Mexico Interparliamentary Group and met with their counterparts to discuss our trade relationship, migration and human safety, national security cooperation and a 21st Century border.

“We have an enormous opportunity to work with our partners in Mexico to enhance the physical and economic security of people on both sides of the border,” said Hurd, who represents more miles of the U.S.-Mexico border than any other Member of Congress. “In a district that is both heavily dependent on cross-border trade and ground zero for energy production, I am especially optimistic about modernizing NAFTA to account for the digital marketplace and promoting North American Energy Security. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sure Texans benefit from NAFTA renegotiation.”

Dring the meeting, members of the 53rd IPG also approved a Joint Declaration affirming the mutual benefits of shared understanding, respect, and cooperation in the areas of Immigration and Human Safety, Trade and Economic Relations, National Security and a 21st Century Border. Read the full Joint Declaration here.

Hurd was appointed to the IPG in February, which is tasked with fostering dialogue between members of the United States’ and Mexican legislative bodies on issues of bilateral importance. This week’s bipartisan delegation was led by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX).

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UTEP Report: Trade Ambiguity Triggers Lower Mexico Economic Forecast

The potential disruption in trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico was among the reasons why economists who monitor Mexico’s business cycle developments have lowered their 2017 projections of gross domestic product, according to UTEP’s Border Region Modeling Project.

“The Trump Effect” is the title of the fourth quarter Mexico Consensus Economic Forecast that reports a GDP growth rate projection of 1.4 percent, 90 basis points lower than the 2.3 percent rate predicted in September 2016.

The projection includes a climb in the short-term 28-day treasury certificates (CETES) interest rate to 5.9 percent in 2017, while the nominal peso per dollar exchange rate will average P/$20.70 next year.

“Currency market erosion of the peso usually translates into greater direct foreign investment in maquiladora-related manufacturing in Ciudad Juárez,” said Tom Fullerton, Ph.D., director of the BRMP and professor of economics.

“It is not clear, however, that such a dynamic will materialize next year due to Trump administration suspicions about international trade impacts on the national economy. Any investments in export-oriented manufacturing in Ciudad Juárez are also accompanied by additional warehousing and transportation investments in El Paso,” Fullerton Added.

This quarterly report is published by the BRMP, a research unit within Department of Economics and Finance in the College of Business Administration at The University of Texas at El Paso.

The report synthesizes macroeconomic forecasts from nine prominent banks, universities and other U.S. and Mexican institutions.

UTEP Researchers Lead Battle Against Mosquitoes

Humans are bigger, faster, smarter and more powerful than mosquitoes, yet we still can’t beat them. But for 50 years, Doug Watts, Ph.D., has been trying.

Well ahead of monsoon season – in fact, starting well before the first of the year – Watts and his team at UTEP’s Mosquito Ecology and Surveillance Laboratory (MESL) have been tracking the pesky insects’ travels around the world due to a concern that has since become a global crisis: Zika virus.

Of immediate concern is the fact that the particular mosquito that transmits Zika (as well as dengue fever and chikungunya, another disease on the rise) is the second-most abundant species in El Paso.

Watts knows this particular insect almost better than anyone. The internationally renowned researcher of mosquito-borne diseases is celebrating his fifth decade in the field and has amassed expertise in infectious disease all over the world. He began chasing down this species, Aedes aegypti, starting in 1977 in Bangkok, Thailand.

“At that time I recognized just how difficult it was to control this mosquito, to do anything to reduce the population,” he said.

Watts, who is also the co-director of infectious disease and immunology for the University’s Border Biomedical Research Center, was a research biologist for the Department of Defense (DoD) for 28 years, where he conducted field and laboratory research on the ecology and epidemiology of enteric, parasitic and viral diseases in Asia, Africa and South America. Watts also served as the scientific director of the Naval Medical Research Center’s Overseas Research Program.

After his retirement from the DoD, he worked as a scientific administrator and infectious disease investigator at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. There, his research was focused on emerging viral disease and the evaluation of candidate therapeutics and vaccines for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and West Nile viruses.

In 2013, Watts, UTEP and a team of fellow researchers from around the world were awarded a five-year, $6 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop and evaluate a Rift Valley fever vaccine for protecting livestock against the disease in Africa.

Watts continues to apply his vast experience to emerging viral diseases – or re-emerging, in the case of Zika, as it was first discovered in Uganda in 1947. For decades it remained obscure, non-problematic and undetected outside Africa. Yet more than 60 years later, the virus has become an international concern due to its unexpected spread and unpredictable biological effects.

Only 14 human cases of Zika virus were documented until 2007, when a Zika outbreak occurred on Yap Island, a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean. Approximately 75 percent of the population was infected, exhibiting the symptoms that the majority of people who contract the virus will have: fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis.

“This was the alarm that Zika is on its way, it’s moving,” Watts said. “Nobody paid any attention.”

In 2013, Zika was identified in New Caledonia, 2,300 miles southeast of Yap Island. When it hit French Polynesia that same year (almost 3,000 miles away), it caused a major outbreak among an estimated 20,000 people. There, it was also first associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological condition that can cause a kind of temporary paralysis.

And then in 2015, the virus arrived in Brazil, and the world has been on high alert since.

Watts explained that Zika virus was probably in Brazil back in 2014, but no one knew to look for it, nor what to look for.

“By that time, it spread all over Brazil and probably to other countries, just like Ebola did in West Africa,” Watts said. “That’s one of the weaknesses in our surveillance programs throughout the world. We don’t have a very effective, proactive surveillance in place. We always respond retroactively. These viruses don’t wait; they move.”

The veteran researcher is keeping in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as health agencies around the Southwest. He hypothesizes that when – not if – Zika arrives in the U.S., it will first concentrate around the southern border of Texas, which offers an ideal mosquito environment. And despite ages of building civilization up to modern-day standards, the bugs still seem to be outsmarting humans.

Mosquito control boils down to reducing the bugs’ population density to a level that is not sufficient for transmission of a virus. To this end, the MESL has conducted studies over the past two years to gauge the local mosquito population. Watts believes it has resulted in an unprecedented amount of data valuable not just to El Paso, but also to the entire Southwest.

“I don’t think anybody in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas has that kind of data, and it has a lot to do with my having experience doing research and understanding what are the important questions to ask,” Watts said. “If you’re going to have virus transmission, you’ve got to have the vector for those mosquito-borne diseases. So, the first question I ask is, ‘Do we have them? And, if so, how many are out there?’”

Watts has teamed up on a grant application with New Mexico State University, North Texas University, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and the Ministry of Health in Matamoros, Mexico. The team aims to determine the actual impact of dengue, chikungunya and Zika on human health in the U.S.-Mexico border community of Brownsville and Matamoros.

The study will provide comparative data that will identify possible ecological, biological and socio-economic differences that contribute to the incidence of these diseases in these communities. The emphasis will be on understanding the reportedly higher incidence of mosquito-borne diseases in Mexican communities versus the U.S. border communities.

Such information is particularly critical for designing and applying vector control measures, which are the only methods available for preventing mosquito-borne diseases.

Researchers working alongside Watts include UTEP undergraduate and graduate students as well as Laboratory Director Celina Crews. They are busy day in and day out trapping mosquitoes as part of their dedicated tracking program.

Watts’ team also is racing to develop a more accurate Zika-specific diagnostic test, which will be a tremendous step toward treatment and containment of the virus. But it’s not that easy. As Watts said, “It’s a big mess.”Mosquito-Deadliest-AnimalsWEB

“The patient becomes infected with Zika virus, the virus circulates in the blood and appears about three days after the patient is infected, then it circulates through the body up to about day eight, then the virus is cleared by antibodies,” he explained. “Now, what happens when Zika infects a person who has already had an infection with a closely related virus, like West Nile or dengue or yellow fever, the antibodies produced by Zika are very much like the antibodies produced by dengue, yellow fever and West Nile. So you test the person after they have cleared [Zika] virus to try to figure out if that person had the other viruses, and it’s impossible – we don’t have a test that will distinguish among those different antibodies, they’re so closely related.”

“You’re left with a very difficult situation to try to make an interpretation,” Watts added. “A lot of people don’t get sick when they’re infected with Zika – about 80 percent don’t get any disease and 20 percent get a very mild disease … After that five-to-seven day period when you start to recover, then it’s too late [to test].”

Furthermore, there is no vaccine. Watts estimates that about 300 mosquito-transmitted diseases have been identified with perhaps 100 of them causing human disease. In the United States, there is only one approved vaccine or therapeutic for any of those diseases – yellow fever.

“If mosquito control is ever going to work, the number one priority is education,” Watts said.

To this end, MESL informs mosquito control and health care professionals working to both eliminate the pests and treat anyone who becomes infected with the diseases after being bitten. It also provides bilingual preventive education to elementary school children, leaving them with coloring books that inform well beyond just providing an artistic outlet. Some of these are tactics as simple as not allowing toys or tires to stay outside where water can pool and attract breeding bugs.

“That’s why you have to tell the kids because they’re the ones who remind you,” said undergraduate researcher Marcela Diaz. She has been working with MESL since summer 2014 as one of the dozen students (both bachelor’s and master’s candidates) on the team.

For all the work that still needs to be done, Watts can point to one aspect that has been an undeniable success.

“What’s really satisfying is to see the students having an opportunity to take part in this kind of a project,” he said. “It gives them a lot of skills that are going to give them a job in public health, or if they want to go and get an advanced degree, it gives them a background that certainly is better than most students get, a practical application through theoretical knowledge of mosquito-borne diseases.

Albert Soliz is a field and lab technician who came to MESL in 2013 as an El Paso Community College participant in UTEP’s Bridges to Baccalaureate program. After graduating from EPCC, Soliz became a full-time employee with the lab.

“My little nephew, he’s six years old, and we took him one of these coloring books,” Soliz said. “Now, if he sees water outside, he’ll come inside and say, ‘You better go get rid of that water because there’s gonna be mosquitoes here tomorrow!’ When he goes to school, he tells everybody, too – ‘Close the doors, mosquitoes are coming in!’

Zika is receiving even greater news coverage now that summer is upon us, and Watts anticipates that we’ll only see more of this in the future, for as the population of human beings increases around the world, so does the opportunity for these viruses to be transmitted.

He added, “It’s going to be a never-ending profession to stay ahead of these crazy bugs.”

Thanks to Watts and the MESL, the world will be armed with many more well-trained researchers to fight those crazy bugs and, hopefully, win.

Author: Lisa Y. Garibay – UTEP Communications

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