Tired of working “just to survive” in Brazil, carpenter Paulo Passos, 39, decided to try a better life in the United States last year. He had already lived “in America” from 2004 to 2015 and knew how to enter, even without documents.
Accompanied by a friend, he traveled to the Mexico-Texas border and crossed on December 26. Upon reaching the other side, however, he was caught by the border police. He spent six months in detention in three immigration prisons. During this period, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
In a short time, the health emergency that Paulo followed on TV materialized in the cell where he was, at the Otero County Processing Center, in New Mexico. Of the 32 detained in that room in early May, 23 were diagnosed with coronavirus, including him and another Brazilian.
According to Paulo, preventive care was flawed. With bunks fixed to the floor, it was impossible to social distance. Masks were only distributed days after the first cases.
The first symptomatic contamination in his cell occurred on May 1, when an immigrant was taken ill and never returned. According to the Brazilian, an Ecuadorian had a fever of 40 ºC for three days, and he received no treatment.
With bronchitis and a history of pneumonia, Paulo was afraid that his lungs would suffer from Covid-19, but the only symptom he manifested was chest pain. He was placed in isolation in one of the “punishment rooms,” as the solitary was called. He stayed there for 12 days, leaving only 20 minutes to bathe.
Paulo was deported on a chartered flight by the American government on June 19, just days after Brazil became the second country with the most deaths by Covid-19 in the world.
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon