Flu Outbreak At Migrant Facility Leaving Border Agents Out Sick: Officials

CBP/Handout via REUTERS

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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A flu outbreak among illegal immigrants detained within the busiest processing center in the country spread to Border Patrol agents, rendering many of them unable to work, officials said.

The McAllen Central Processing Center, located in southern Texas, reopened Wednesday after a major flu outbreak among detainees caused the facility to temporarily shut down. At least 32 migrants tested positive for influenza, forcing officials to suspend intake of more people.

The flu outbreak put an additional strain on a facility that is already working well beyond its limitations. The total capacity for immigration processing centers in the Rio Grande Valley Sector is slightly over 3,600, but Border Patrol officials have taken in as many as 8,000 undocumented migrants in recent time.

“It’s not what we’re designed for. We’re not designed for the amount of people that we have in custody,” said Chris Cabrera, Vice-President of the National Border Patrol Council, speaking to CBS 4 Valley. “There needs to be a fix because it’s just a matter of time before something bad happens.”

Border Patrol agents have been exposed to not only the flu, but also scabies and other viruses as they process thousands of incoming migrants. The flu epidemic has spread to agents themselves, causing many of them to call out sick, an official said.

“The majority of our agents are sick or have been sick in there,” Cabrera said.

“Every day we have guys that call in sick for real illnesses, sometimes we have 10, 15, 20 guys call in sick, because they are actually sick from being in that building, obviously we don’t close, we are 24/7 but it’s going to continue until we get a fix to this system,” he added.

TOPSHOT - Central American migrants are detained by US Customs and Border Patrol agents at the border wall in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on May 7, 2019. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Central American migrants are detained by US Customs and Border Patrol agents. (HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The outbreak comes after the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who had been detained at the McAllen center for six days. The teenage boy was diagnosed with the flu and prescribed medicine Sunday after telling medical staff he didn’t feel well. However, he was found unresponsive the following morning when checked on by staff. (RELATED: Democrat Shut Down After Making ‘Appalling Accusation’ Against Immigration Chief)

The boy’s death — the fifth since December 2018 — sparked outrage by Democratic lawmakers in Congress. During a congressional hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday, a number of Democrats demanded an investigation into the deaths and how child migrants are handled while in Border Patrol custody.

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