Waves of illnesses plaguing detained migrants in holding centers are now affecting Border Patrol agents as well.
Holding facilities in the Del Rio and El Paso regions of Texas are not only seeing an “unprecedented” number of illnesses among detainees, agents are now falling victim to the various diseases migrants have brought with them or contracted in the crowded quarters, the Washington Examiner reported.
While fears are high over the possibility of an asylum-seeking migrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo exposing others to Ebola, union representatives for Border Patrol agents reveal it is the many other illnesses affecting detainees in centers along the southern border that are an immediate concern.
“Scabies, chickenpox — we had one case of the mumps here in Uvalde. I wanna say we had measles — plenty of the flu, plenty of colds, body lice, just assorted. And some of these things, they spread like wildfires when you get into a cramped holding cell. It happens,” Jon Anfinsen, a National Border Patrol Council vice president, said.
“It’s not so much the workload. It’s the constant illnesses. We have a lot of agents who are sick. The other day I talked to agents from four different stations. And every single one of them had a cough,” Anfinsen, who represents about 1,000 agents, added.
An agent for 12 years, Anfinsen is based in Del Rio, which includes Eagle Pass – the location that is seeing the most Congolese arriving. He noted that the sheer number of people being detained in overcrowded facilities and the illnesses popping up among them is “unprecedented.”
“I’ll go and I’ll help process. There was one day I spent processing and we had like 40 Guatemalans and Hondurans, and most of them had some kind of cough. And sure enough the next day, I’m sick — for a week,” he said. “It’s become the new normal, and you gotta just keep going and do your job because you can’t just not process them.”
And the instances of different illnesses breaking out varies in type as well as duration, according to Wesley Farris, National Border Patrol Council vice president.
“It’ll go in waves. Scabies — strep throat was the last one. Strep throat happened at the Santa Teresa station [in New Mexico]. It was everywhere,” the El Paso agent said. “Active tuberculosis comes in fairly regularly. We had an incident of H1N1, swine flu, in Clint [Texas] with a juvenile. And then the ones that are most disruptive are the simple ones: regular flu or lice.”
The El Paso sector’s 2,500 agents have been instructed to wear gloves and face masks as well as take basic safety precautions, but the number of migrants continues to overwhelm the southern U.S. border, with Farris suggesting that doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be brought in.
According to Washington Examiner:
Some agents will ask migrants while they are in the field if they need medical help and will then acquire additional transportation if it is needed.
Once back at the station, either Border Patrol EMTs, medical personnel from the Coast Guard, or contracted doctors and nurses will take each person’s vitals and examine them for signs of illness. If a person is deemed to be in good standing, he or she will be released into a holding cell with others. All others will be sent to a hospital. Following hospital tests and possible treatment, the detainee is turned back over to Border Patrol. Quarantining is difficult because of the lack of space at stations, both men said.
Border Patrol does not do blood work as part of medical intake for incoming detainees.
The Congo’s Ebola outbreak prompted the CDC to launch an emergency operations center last week, a move Farris believes should “absolutely” be mirrored in some fashion at the southern border.
“You’re going to have to sift through thousands before you get one [major disease],” he said. “That’s my nightmare — that somebody does get sick — because I’m going to have to make the funeral arrangements. And it’s not going to be an agent, it’s going to be his 3-year-old kid at home who contracts Ebola or H1N1 because they’re little.”
Anfinsen echoed the sentiments, noting that medical screening of migrants should be at the top of the priority list.
“If I was running the ship, I would make medically screening people a higher priority,” Anfinsen said. “At least 90 percent of people coming into this sector are coming in at one spot. I would get ahead of the game and set up what you call a hot zone — have medical right there.”
“We’re civil servants. It’s what we’re supposed to do in that regard — make sure we at least know [a person’s background],” he added. “We do it on the criminal side — we won’t release a criminal if they have an active warrant. We’ll check that. But we’re very reluctant to quarantine them medically.”
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