Politics & Policy

Texas Immigration Center a Magnet for Disease

Border Patrol union says poor medical screening risks new virus outbreak.

A Border Patrol official says he’s concerned the medical screening at the Border Patrol Station in McAllen, Texas, has grown so porous that a new superbug will make its way into the United States through the station.

Albert Spratte, the sergeant-at-arms of the National Border Patrol Council Local 3307 in the Rio Grande Valley, says the medical screening process involves separating people into one of three separate classifications. If a person claims to be sick, he or she will see a doctor. If a person does not claim to be sick, but an Emergency Medical Technician looks at the person and determines he or she has symptoms of some sort of illness, that person will also see a doctor. But a person who does not claim to be ill or is not displaying symptoms may or may not be seen.

“It’s like a crapshoot,” Spratte says. “You may or may not be letting something in with a disease we haven’t had in the U.S. before.” He says he knows of an active case of tuberculosis that passed through the facility, along with people who had scabies and others who had measles. There was even one case of leprosy, he says. “I don’t think the people in the interior U.S. realize it’s a different world,” Spratte says. “This is the U.S., but it’s a different part of the U.S. This is almost like a different country.”

He says the living conditions of the people at the McAllen station make him nauseous. The people detained at the center — unaccompanied children, adults and families — are placed in the sally port, an outside garage with chain gates on either side that allow air to flow through the facility. Spratte says the sally port at the McAllen Border Patrol Station may hold up to four buses or multiple vans. The vehicles pull up to the gates to unload people who are then taken inside for processing. “I can smell it before ten, 15 feet away,” Spratte says. “You walk around in there, it smells like funk.”   He says the problem will only get worse, as “pretty soon all of Central America is going to be in the U.S.”

Ofelia de los Santos, a Catholic Charities public information officer, has provided relief at Sacred Heart Catholic Church to illegal immigrants dumped by federal officials at the nearby McAllen bus station. She says people arrive at the church in poor shape. “They were dirty and smelly and had been in detention for as long as five and seven days and they hadn’t bathed,” de los Santos says.

Spratte says he does not know what else Border Patrol officers could do. “We can’t solve this, we can’t stop the problem because it’s not an enforcement thing, it’s a policy,” he says. “Because whether or not it was intentional, the policies they have in Washington I believe are encouraging them (illegal immigrants).” 

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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