Politics & Policy

Scabies Spreads Among Border Detainees

Illegals at a detention center in Nogales, Ariz. (Getty Images)
“Management’s more concerned about processing and getting rid of them as quickly as possible than looking at decontamination,” a Border Patrol agent says.

Approximately 40 immigrants in detention at one center in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego Sector have active cases of scabies, a source tells National Review Online, and they could soon be spreading it to the general public.

A Border Patrol agent who helped process illegal immigrants at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station on Sunday tells NRO that the 40 immigrants infected with scabies arrived on a plane that landed July 4, carrying about 140 immigrants total.

The agent says the people at FEMA who are responsible for doing the medical screening of the immigrants before they’re transferred to California should be fired. “Management’s more concerned about processing and getting rid of them as quickly as possible than looking at decontamination,” the agent says. “And [the released illegal immigrants] go out in the community, get on the public transportation, go where they need to go, and it could result in another infestation of scabies being spread everywhere.”

But the San Diego Sector was already dealing with a scabies outbreak when the latest batch of illegal immigrants arrived. Two agents at the Brown Field Border Patrol Station developed rashes on July 3 after processing illegal immigrants from Texas, according to a letter obtained by NRO written by Ron Zermeno, health and safety director of National Border Patrol Council Local 1613. Zermeno confirmed the veracity of the letter and the facts contained therein to NRO.

The immigrants that spread the disease to the agents arrived on the buses that were blocked from entering the Murrieta station last week by local residents, he said.

The first agent to contract the illness told Zermeno he was asked to do the medical screening of all detainees before releasing them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The agent thought he got sick while observing several people with open sores, Zermeno wrote in the letter to Paul Beeson, the San Diego Sector’s chief patrol agent.

“[The Border Patrol agent] is not a trained medical professional but did the best he could do,” Zermeno wrote. “He was not told about any precautions to take such as decontamination of himself and uniform.” As a result, the agent who became ill exposed the agent he carpools with to scabies, and put his wife and two small children at risk of contracting scabies too, the letter explained. Scabies is an infestation by a mite that burrows into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs, according to the CDC.

In the letter, Zermeno notes that Beeson had said FEMA personnel had already conducted health screening on the individuals transferred to California, but that EMT agents in California discovered “several” people with active cases of scabies and other illnesses. “We do not know exactly which detainee was infected and processed at Brown Field that resulted in the agent contracting this disease,” Zermeno wrote. “We suspect that they could have been already transferred to ICE custody and may have already been released in the surrounding communities.”

The letter reported that other Border Patrol stations in the San Diego sector were not properly disposing of contaminated bedding. At the Chula Vista station, agents left contaminated bedding in open paper bags with signs taped to them that said, “SCABIES!!!!!! Do NOT Move until after 7/5/14 1600.” Zermeno wrote that the sheets should instead be placed in sealed plastic bags, and recommended that disposable blankets be used instead of wool ones. He asked that agents involved in the transportation, processing, and medical screening receive disposable overalls and be provided a facility where agents can decontaminate before departing the processing area.

“Border Patrol management is aware of the scabies outbreak but continue[s] to ignore recommendations,” Zermeno wrote. “I request that your staff not down play this incident and call it an isolated incident.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told ABC News the Central Americans surging across the border are family members who do not present a threat. “These are family members, these are not gang members, these are not dangerous individuals,” Kerlikowske told ABC. “I think that we all need to work through this problem together as Americans.”

Border Patrol officials at the Chula Vista and Brown Field Stations were not immediately available for comment.

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

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