CBP meets with doctors trying to vaccinate detainees but still denies access

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- A group of doctors from across the country descended on San Diego and the U.S.-Mexico border this week in an attempt to provide much-needed flu vaccines to migrants detained in Customs and Border Protection facilities.

"We're taking their feasibility argument out of the picture, we're taking their logistical argument out of the picture, because we took care of all of that for them," one doctor said. "That was our primary goal coming here. Unfortunately, they blocked us and decided to arrest our people for trying to give vulnerable children basic medical care."

This all started in July when founders of the group -- all medical professionals -- learned that three children had died while in CBP custody.

After securing the necessary flu vaccines, they began reaching out to the Department of Homeland Security and other top officials to offer their services for free.

The doctors said they never heard back. They continued their efforts until December, when they decided to get on a plane and try to force the issue.

The doctors said they brought all the equipment they needed for a vaccination pop-up -- including 20 licensed medical professionals and 120 doses of flu vaccine -- to San Diego but were not allowed to administer the vaccines.

When their efforts along the border were blocked on Tuesday, several doctors laid down in the street in protest and were promptly arrested.

In an effort to avoid duplicating that experience, the group tried a new tactic Wednesday: peacefully protesting in front of the CBP headquarters. They eventually met with the second in command at the Chula Vista office.

A spokesperson with the CBP issued a statement that read in part, "It has never been a CBP practice to administer vaccines and this is not a new policy ... Individuals should not be held for longer than 72 hours in either CBP hold rooms or holding facilities.

"As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short term nature of CBP holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible. Both ICE and HHS have comprehensive medical support services and can provide vaccinations as appropriate to those in their custody."

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