Health authorities in northern Mexico vaccinated hundreds of migrants living in makeshift tents a few meters from a pedestrian crossing bridge to the United States in the border city of Tijuana on Tuesday.
The COVID-19 vaccine doses were given to migrants a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control extended the so-called Title 42 order that allows U.S. officials to send thousands of non-Mexicans back to Mexico without the chance to seek asylum or other protections in the United States.
An official from the health department in Baja California said 450 doses were being given at the camp, of about 4,000 available. He did not say if more would be used at the camp on other days.
Officials also did not confirm whether the vaccinations would extend to other areas with large concentrations of migrants, such as shelters in Tijuana or other border cities.
“I feel very safe now because here … there are many people and one can easily catch this disease,” said Roberto Espana, a Guatemalan migrant who was the first to get the shot.
“I’ll wait for the second dose in three weeks,” said Espana, who arrived in the area four months ago hoping to ask U.S. officials for asylum.
Authorities from the United States and Mexico have made efforts to reopen the border, which has been closed to crossings considered non-essential since March 2020. Despite prioritizing vaccinating border cities, the restrictions remain in place.
Reluctance to relax the restrictions may be exacerbated by lower vaccination rates among the transient migrant population, some of whom like Espana have spent months hoping to make U.S. asylum claims.
“It is not that the government is very concerned about the situation of migrants but rather that there is pressure to reopen the border, even of an economic nature”, said Karla Valenzuela, a researcher on migration issues for the Universidad Iberoamericana.