Parasitic disease claiming sight of MPP migrant woman

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UPDATE (10:47 PM): Yodalys Mendoza's attorney says she was paroled into the U.S. and will continue her asylum case from Florida where she plans to reunite with her children and grandchildren, after 10 years apart.


WESLACO – A Cuban woman with parasitic disease is asking the federal government to exempt her from the Migrant Protection Protocol. A Customs and Border Protection policy could be used to grant her that exemption.

The Migrant Protection Protocol was implemented along the Rio Grande Valley's border in late July 2019. When migrants arrived they were processed in the U.S. and sent back to Mexico under the program known as MPP. Some exceptions apply but just who is exempted from MPP is up to the CBP policy and discretion by the port director.

Yodalys Mendoza Lezcano arrived in Matamoros in June 2019. She lives in a world of haze and shadows.

"I don't see. I see silhouettes. It's all dark. At any point, I can be left completely blind," she said Sunday.

She feels desperate but clings to a plastic Zipper bag that carries her last hope. Delicately, she unfolded bags she sewed for, "my grandson, my granddaughter, and this one is for me."

Mendoza wants to get to her family in Florida before a disease rapidly claiming her sight progresses.

"Taxoplasmosis," explained Charlene D'Cruz, Mendoza's immigration attorney. "It's a parasite that pretty much has eaten away her retina in her right eye, and is now eating up the retina in the left eye.”

Mendoza was first diagnosed in Cuba with the disease but says she had to leave before she could get treatment. When she arrived in Mexico in April, she was detained for 50 days in a detention facility. After she was released, she arrived in Matamoros and was put on a list as part of the metering process in place at the time. When MPP was implemented the following month, she was placed in the program. D'Cruz says a disability should exempt her from it, as it has many of her clients. Each of them required multiple trips to CBP at the bridge.

"I had to make three trips for a deaf person. Four trips for a little girl with efistula. So, I'm not completely surprised by their reaction," D'Cruz said. She's requested CBP exempt Mendoza from MPP four times, including once Monday. CBP denied all requests.

The agency sent a statement saying they cannot comment on individual cases, but said vulnerable populations "may" be excluded on a case-by-case basis. The full statement reads:

CBP is precluded from discussing individual cases for privacy reasons. All claims of credible fear are handled on a case-by-case basis. Generally, those migrants not otherwise amenable to MPP are turned over to ICE-ERO or HHS-ORR depending on the specifics of their respective cases. Those who are amenable to MPP are returned to Mexico pending their next hearing. Unaccompanied alien children and aliens in expedited removal proceedings will not be subject to MPP.  Other individuals from vulnerable populations may be excluded on a case-by-case basis.

An agency policy issued Jan. 2018 states immigrants with "known physical/mental health issues" are "not amenable" to be placed in MPP.

According to D'Cruz, CBP officials offered another alternative. "On Saturday I was told, 'oh, we're happy to push her court date further out so she can go travel around Mexico getting care." Multiple visits to local doctors and a hospital in Tamaulipas confirm the care she needs is not available there. Without relatives in Mexico and with friends who work during the week, moving around is challenging for Mendoza. She said, "I told them I can't be alone in the street. I'm afraid. Last time I got into a taxi I got disoriented."

The disease has progressed so quickly, that Mendoza says she struggles to see the purses she made for her grandchildren in April for Mother's Day. Time is running out. "Before I lose my sight, I want to see my children and meet my grand-kids," Mendoza said. She's hoping CBP uses discretion to releases her into the U.S. under her own recognizance instead of continuing on MPP.

On Sunday, she left her attorney's office guided by the hand of a Cuban friend. They boarded a public bus emblazoned with St. Jude, the patron saint for desperate cases and lost causes.

When they returned to try again Monday, CBP denied their claim, sent them away, and called them back to the bridge. At that time, Mendoza, who is also epileptic, began shaking. She was taken into a Valley hospital emergency room. She was then returned to Mexico. D'Cruz says they've reached out to lawmakers hoping they can help change her situation.


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