More than 2,000 migrants quarantined in US detention centers due to epidemics


(Reuters) – After finding a lawyer to help him seek asylum, Christian Mejia thought he could escape detention in the immigration zone in Louisiana.

Then he was quarantined.

In early January, an outbreak of mumps at the Pine Prairie US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Center forced Mejia and hundreds of other inmates to be jailed. "When there is only one person who is sick, everyone pays," said 19-year-old Mejia in a telephone interview at the Pine Prairie Center, describing weeks without visits and without access to the library and the refectory.

His lawyer was not allowed to enter, but his trial in the Immigration Court continued – by videoconference. On February 12, the judge ordered that Mejia be sent back to Honduras.

The number of people detained in the Trump administration's immigration center has reached record highs, raising concern among migrants' rights defenders about the epidemics and quarantines that limit access legal services.

As of March 6, more than 50,000 migrants were in detention, according to ICE data.

Internal e-mails reviewed by Reuters reveal the complications of managing outbreaks such as Pine Prairie because immigrant inmates are often transferred across the country and infected people do not necessarily have the symptoms of a viral disease, even when they are contagious.

CIE health officials were informed of 236 confirmed or probable cases of mumps among inmates at 51 facilities in the last 12 months, compared with no cases detected between January 2016 and February 2018. L & # 39; Last year, it was determined that 423 inmates had influenza and 461 had chickenpox. The three diseases are largely preventable by vaccination.

As of March 7, 2,287 prisoners had been quarantined all over the country, an ICE official told Reuters who asked for anonymity.

On Feb. 28, ten Democrat members of Congress sent a letter to ICE Acting Director Ronald Vitiello asking for more information about viral diseases in Colorado's immigration detention centers. Arizona and Texas. Legislators have not mentioned the Pine Prairie outbreak.

Pablo Paez, a spokesman for The GEO Group, the private penitentiary operator who runs Pine Prairie on contract with the government, said his health care professionals were meeting the standards set by the ICE and authorities health. He added that the medical care provided to the detainees allowed the society to "detect, treat and follow appropriate medical protocols to manage an infectious epidemic".


The first cases in Pine Prairie were detected in January in four recent migrants transferred from the Tallahatchie County Detention Center in Mississippi, according to internal emails.

Tallahatchie, run by private holding company CoreCivic, has registered five confirmed cases of mumps and 18 cases of chicken pox since January, according to company spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist. She added that no one diagnosed with the diagnosis had been transferred out of the institution while the disease was active.

Tallahatchie is home to hundreds of recently apprehended migrants along the US-Mexico border, officials said.

On Tuesday, US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters that the demographic changes on the southwestern border, with more immigrants from Central America traveling long distances, were borders and raised fears of health problems.

"We are seeing migrants come up with diseases and medical problems in unprecedented numbers," McAleenan said at a press conference.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination rates in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras exceed 90%. Inmates of the CIE come from countries around the world, with vaccination coverage more or less wide.


In Pine Prairie, staff members sometimes disagreed with the manager on how to handle the mumps outbreak, show internal emails. The guardian decided not to quarantine 40 new arrivals from Tallahatchie in February, despite concerns expressed by medical staff, according to an email.

Director Indalecio Ramos, who shared questions about the epidemic with ICE and The GEO Group, argued that quarantining transfers would prevent them from attending their hearings, the center's administrator said. the health of the institution in an email dated February 7.

In an e-mail dated February 21, ICE asked Pine Prairie medical staff to release a quarantined inmate for chicken pox and mumps for relocation, calling it "a large-scale dismissal for his family." expulsion". Ramos wrote that the medical staff wanted to exclude the inmate from the transfer but that "ICE still wanted him to travel out of the country … make sure he leaves."

The spokesman of the CIE said that travel is limited for people deemed contagious, but that people exposed to asymptomatic diseases can travel.

Since January, Pine Prairie's 1,094-bed center has 18 inmates with confirmed or probable cases of mumps, compared to none in 2018, according to ICE. By mid-February, 288 people were quarantined in Pine Prairie. Mejia said her 40s ended on 25 February.

Detention centers in other states have also seen an increase in epidemics.

There have been 186 cases of mumps in immigration detention centers in Texas since October, the biggest epidemic that has occurred in these centers in recent years, said Lara Anton, health services press officer. from the State Department of Texas.

In Colorado, at the Denver-operated Detroit Detention Center, managed by the GEO group, 357 people have been quarantined following eight confirmed cases and five suspected mumps cases since February, as well as six cases of chickenpox diagnosed since early January. said Dr. Bernadette Albanese of the Tri County Health Department in Colorado.

Civil rights lawyer Danielle Jefferis said court hearings for immigrants quarantined in Aurora were largely canceled.

On February 12, in Pine Prairie, Mejia said she felt confused and hopeless during her video hearing, with no lawyer at her side.

After Mejia's lawyers complained, the lawyers were allowed to visit the quarantined detainees on February 13 – a day too late for Mejia.

While appealing his case, his lawyers say that he could be deported at any time.

Report by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Edited by Julie Marquis and Paul Thomasch

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