The thousands of migrants amassed at the U.S. southern border with Mexico present countless challenges to the federal agencies tasked to process them, including dealing with those who are sick with highly contagious diseases.
Reuters reported that as of March 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that some 50,000 migrants are in federal detention and of those, 2,287 migrants are in quarantine with diseases largely irradiated in the United States, including mumps and chicken pox. Many are also ill with strains of influenza, according to records.
Reuters reported on migrants in the Pine Prairie detention center in Louisiana:
Internal emails reviewed by Reuters reveal the complications of managing outbreaks like the one at Pine Prairie, since immigrant detainees often are transferred around the country and infected people do not necessarily show symptoms of viral diseases even when they are contagious.
Mumps can easily spread through droplets of saliva in the air, especially in close quarters. While most people recover within a few weeks, complications include brain swelling, sterility and hearing loss.
ICE health officials have been notified of 236 confirmed or probable cases of mumps among detainees in 51 facilities in the past 12 months, compared to no cases detected between January 2016 and February 2018. Last year, 423 detainees were determined to have influenza and 461 to have chicken pox. All three diseases are largely preventable by vaccine.
Pablo Paez, who is a spokesman for the GEO Group, the private sector organization the government contracted to run Pine Prairie, said its medical protocol is designed “to detect, treat and follow appropriate medical protocols to manage an infectious outbreak.”
Four of the infected migrants in Louisiana had been transferred from a center in Mississippi, according to “internal emails” Reuters reviewed.
The Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, operated by another private sector corporation, CoreCivic Inc., has had five confirmed cases of mumps and 18 cases of chicken pox since January, Amanda Gilchrist, spokeswoman for the company, told Reuters.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters recently that his agency is dealing with a different kind of migrant than the past’s mostly adult male Mexicans looking for work.
Now, migrants are taking longer and more dangerous journeys to the U.S. border and in record numbers.
“We are seeing migrants arrive with illnesses and medical conditions in unprecedented numbers,” McAleenan said..
“ICE detainees come from countries all over the world, with varying degrees of vaccination coverage,” Reuters noted. “Detention centers in other states also have seen a rise in outbreaks.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported that 186 mumps cases had been confirmed since October in state detention centers housing migrants — “the largest outbreak in centers there in recent years.”
The GEO group in charge of a Denver, Colorado center, reported 357 migrants have been quarantined after mumps and chicken pox cases were detected.
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