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.
The McAllen Central Processing Center, located in southern Texas, reopened on 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 scabies and other viruses as they process thousands of incoming migrants. The current flu epidemic has spread to agents themselves, causing many of them to call out sick.
“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,” Cabrera explained.
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 on Sunday after telling medical staff he didn’t feel well. However, he was found unresponsive the following morning when checked on by staff.
The boy’s death — the fifth since December — has sparked outrage by Democratic lawmakers in Congress. During a congressional hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday, numerous Democrats demanded an investigation into the deaths and how child migrants are handled while in Border Patrol custody.
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