50 crossers daily need ur­gent med­i­cal care

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Bor­der au­thor­i­ties are re­fer­ring 50 peo­ple a day for ur­gent med­i­cal care, in­clud­ing tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, flu and even preg­nant women about to give birth, a top of­fi­cial said last week, say­ing it’s un­like any­thing they’ve ever seen be­fore.

Most of those in need of care are chil­dren, and a stag­ger­ing 28 per­cent are un­der age 5, hav­ing been dragged along for the trip by par­ents who in many cases are hop­ing to use the chil­dren as a shield against speedy de­por­ta­tion from the U.S.

The num­bers were re­leased af­ter a full re­view was done of all chil­dren in the cus­tody of Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion in the wake of two il­le­gal-im­mi­grant chil­dren who died in U.S. hos­pi­tals in De­cem­ber.

CBP Com­mis­sioner Kevin McAleenan said most of those need­ing help were ill when they ar­rived at the bor­der, and some ap­pear to have made the ini­tial de­ci­sion to leave even while ail­ing.

“Many were ill be­fore they de­parted their homes,” the com­mis­sioner said. “We’re talk­ing about cases of pneu­mo­nia, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, par­a­sites. These are not things that de­vel­oped ur­gently in a mat­ter of days.”

Agents have spot­ted a new trend in the traf­fic from Cen­tral Amer­ica to the U.S., with smug­gling or­ga­ni­za­tions us­ing com­mer­cial buses to get peo­ple through the jour­ney in less than a week. That’s far faster than the 25 to 30 days it takes most mi­grants who walk or take a mix­ture of trans­porta­tion to get from Guatemala, El Sal­vador and Hon­duras through Mex­ico and to the bor­der.

Mr. McAleenan said the com­mer­cial buses are also de­liv­er­ing mi­grants to parts of the bor­der such as western Texas and New Mex­ico that have tra­di­tion­ally been less af­flicted by the flow of im­mi­grants cross­ing into the U.S. il­le­gally.

The faster trip also makes it eas­ier for sick peo­ple to come, and pro­vides “con­fi­dence for par­ents to bring younger chil­dren” along as well, he said.

As of last week, 17 of the peo­ple re­ferred for med­i­cal care were still hos­pi­tal­ized, Mr. McAleenan said.

The deaths of a 7-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy in CBP cus­tody in De­cem­ber have drawn fierce crit­i­cism, with some Democrats and a num­ber of im­mi­grantrights groups say­ing the agency has blood on its hands.

The girl ar­rived with her fa­ther as part of a group of more than 160 peo­ple at a re­mote part of the bor­der in New Mex­ico, hours from the near­est Bor­der Pa­trol sta­tion. Her fa­ther at first told agents she was healthy, but later alerted them when she be­gan to vomit and then lose con­scious­ness.

Agents re­vived her twice and she was flown by air am­bu­lance to a hos­pi­tal where she later died af­ter suf­fer­ing ma­jor or­gan fail­ure.

The boy died Christ­mas Eve af­ter six days in CBP cus­tody, hav­ing been trans­ferred to mul­ti­ple fa­cil­i­ties be­cause of over­crowd­ing due to the new surge of peo­ple.

His ini­tial ill­ness was di­ag­nosed at a hos­pi­tal as a com­mon cold, then he was deemed to have a fever. He was treated and re­leased, but hours later, back at a bor­der hold­ing fa­cil­ity, he vom­ited.

His fa­ther de­clined med­i­cal at­ten­tion, but an agent dur­ing a later wel­fare check said the boy looked ill and had him taken back to the hos­pi­tal, where he died.

The boy’s mother, back in Guatemala, told Reuters news agency they had been told by neigh­bors that if he brought the child, the fa­ther would get more le­nient treat­ment by U.S. au­thor­i­ties and would be quickly re­leased into the U.S. where he could dis­ap­pear into the shad­ows, live in the U.S. il­le­gally and find work.

She was re­fer­ring to a 2015 court rul­ing in the Flores case, which saw an Oba­maap­pointed judge is­sue a de­ci­sion that forces the gov­ern­ment ei­ther to sep­a­rate chil­dren from their par­ents — a prac­tice that was tried ear­lier this year, to much crit­i­cism — or to re­lease both par­ents and chil­dren within about 20 days.

That rul­ing was ap­pealed by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but was mostly up­held by an ap­peals court.

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say fam­i­lies re­leased rarely show up for de­por­ta­tions. About one-third of them cut off an­kle bracelets al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter they’re re­leased, au­thor­i­ties say.

“It’s no se­cret that we are see­ing an in­crease of fam­ily units and un­ac­com­pa­nied aliens mi­nors as a di­rect re­sult of the Ninth Cir­cuit’s Flores Set­tle­ment Agree­ment and the 2008 [Traf­fick­ing Vic­tims Pro­tec­tion Reau­tho­riza­tion Act] — these are clear gaps in U.S. law that smug­glers and traf­fick­ers are tak­ing ad­van­tage of,” said Katie Wald­man, a Home­land Se­cu­rity spokes­woman.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions into both De­cem­ber deaths are on­go­ing and fi­nal med­i­cal eval­u­a­tions have not been pub­licly de­tailed. But bor­der ill­nesses are noth­ing new. Dur­ing the 2014 surge of Un­ac­com­pa­nied Alien Chil­dren (UAC) au­thor­i­ties re­ported mas­sive chick­en­pox and other com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease out­breaks.

The num­bers of chil­dren cross­ing now ex­ceed that pre­vi­ous surge, with 22,000 chil­dren nabbed at the bor­der in De­cem­ber, out of about 60,000 to­tal im­mi­grants who were ei­ther caught sneak­ing in, or were en­coun­tered at bor­der cross­ings.

Since Dec. 22 there have been 450 med­i­cal cases that needed treat­ment, in­clud­ing flu, par­a­sites, blood in­fec­tions, ab­scesses, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and pneu­mo­nia, Mr. McAleenan said.

Part of the surge could be that the gov­ern­ment is look­ing more closely at those in its cus­tody. Where be­fore agents de­ferred to par­ents on whether their chil­dren needed care, the two re­cent deaths sug­gest par­ents can’t be trusted to know dan­gers or ad­mit to them.

Ev­ery child in CBP cus­tody was given a new med­i­cal check, in­clud­ing tak­ing vi­tal signs. Med­i­cal pros from the Coast Guard and the Pub­lic Health Ser­vice are go­ing to be on site mov­ing for­ward, the gov­ern­ment says.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion has also been roped into duty to look at the in­fec­tious dis­eases, with U.S. of­fi­cials say­ing they think the shel­ters where mi­grants stage in Mex­ico be­fore cross­ing the bor­der could be an in­cu­ba­tor.

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