Guest Opinion: Continuing border wall construction will endanger more lives

By: Sarah Roberts and Norma Price

As retired medical workers, and long-time volunteers with the Tucson Samaritans and No More Deaths organizations working with migrant patients, we know firsthand the dangers and strains that immigrants and border communities face already. But under-resourced medical facilities in these areas now face more pressure with a growing influx of border wall construction workers. Add to that a deadly global pandemic, and it’s plain to see that the irresponsible pursuit of a border wall by the Trump administration is placing our frontier communities in needless and serious danger.

Continuing construction of the border wall is unquestionably irresponsible, and unjust to our under-resourced borderlands. This construction work not only puts our communities at risk of increased spread, but threatens the ability of rural health care systems to manage caring for local communities. Rural areas already face overburdened hospitals, and crews of workers add further stress on our resources – all while we struggle to address the needs of our immediate neighbors.

As the virus continues to spread across our country, and the number of deaths in our communities ticks steadily up, we all should be making every effort to help contain infections. The Trump administration should be leading us in this endeavor. But while the country closes up shop in a collective effort to protect our vulnerable community members, construction on Trump’s xenophobic border wall with Mexico continues, and many are calling out the heightened risk it poses. Construction has even been ramping up in past weeks, despite the continued growth in virus cases and fatalities nationwide.

Cities, counties, and states continue to issue crucial stay-at-home orders to help stop the spread of this virus, and it is clearly dangerous for workers to travel to border construction sites. Isolation orders are effective and help to protect these workers, as well as the safety of others with whom they may come into contact. The wall is not essential – especially now – and we should be doing everything we can to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Moreover, it is unconscionable that construction on this wall should continue when the over $18 billion Trump has pursued for this wall could be much better used to address the needs of healthcare workers and hospitals, and help support those who have been deeply affected by the pandemic.

Right now, we need to support our essential workforce – including healthcare, sanitation, and food production workers on the front lines. We need funding and equipment to go to every overwhelmed hospital, so that healthcare providers can help patients without having to make impossible decisions to prioritize one patient over another, and without fearing for their own health while at work. All available resources should be redirected to the urgent need for protective personal equipment, medical supplies, and oversight at local health departments. We know very well the stress of fighting for our patients when faced with few resources, and we fear things are about to get much worse.

Now more than ever, the Trump administration must reevaluate its priorities, and use the massive amount of money diverted to the wall to fight this pandemic instead. They must protect the safety of our hospitals, the patients who depend on them, and all people in borderlands communities, and stop construction. The health and safety of people fighting this pandemic should be priority number one.

(Roberts is a retired RN who worked for 27 years at St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson. She has volunteered with Tucson Samaritans since its founding in 2002, and with No More Deaths since its founding in 2004 as a medical care provider and advisor for migrant patients. Price was in medical practice for 25 years in Atlanta, and began humanitarian work after moving to Tucson. She has worked with the Tucson Samaritans as a medical provider and advisor for 18 years, and with No More Deaths since its founding in 2004.)