Yesterday, border agents closed down a processing center in McAllen, Texas after one migrant teenager from Guatemala died and others showed symptoms of the flu.
“To avoid the spread of illness, the Rio Grande Valley Sector has temporarily suspended intake operations at the CPC,” the agency said in a statement to Fox News. “Individuals apprehended in RGV Sector will be held at other locations until this situation is resolved.”
The staff at the center noticed other detainees were feverish and showed “signs of a flu-related illness.” The Washington Post reports:
A spokesman in the Rio Grande Valley Sector did not say how many migrants were affected by the illness. The McAllen processing center, a crowded warehouselike building where detainees are held behind fencing and sleep on mats, is among the busiest facilities along the southern border.
The outbreak comes amid severe overcrowding problems at migrant detention facilities in South Texas and heightened scrutiny of the conditions within them, as five child migrants have died in U.S. custody since December. The ballooning volume of people crossing the southern border to claim asylum has overwhelmed the immigration system, from border stations to the courts, and led CBP to take drastic measures. This month, for example, CBP began boarding some new arrivals onto airplanes to jet them to less crowded facilities.
“We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility,” McAleenan had said in March while speaking in El Paso, describing the U.S. immigration system as reaching its “breaking point.” “But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing at the border, I fear that it’s just a matter of time.”
The latest death at a CBP facility came Monday morning, when a 16-year-old migrant who had previously been detained at the McAllen facility was found dead in his cell in Weslaco, Tex. The migrant, Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, had been diagnosed with influenza A infection one day prior, prompting Border Patrol agents to isolate him from other detained migrants, a CBP official told reporters this week.
The unaccompanied minor was initially detained May 13 after crossing the border near Hidalgo, Tex., with about 70 other people. He was then taken to the McAllen facility, where he remained for a week, even though the law requires that unaccompanied minors be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. On May 19, Border Patrol transferred him to the Weslaco facility after a medical screening revealed he was unwell. It was one of two medical screenings he received while in custody, CBP said.
Immigrant advocates claim the migrants are being mistreated, hinting this is why they are sick and dying.
“When we read of individual deaths, we see them as isolated cases. But clearly, we have a huge systemic problem,” Erika Andiola, the chief advocacy officer at RAICES, an immigrant advocacy group, said in a statement. “CBP is mistreating migrants in their custody. Children dying in U.S. custody is a national emergency and should be treated as such.”
(Photo credit: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)