Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers say that more than two thousand illegal immigrants currently being held in ICE custody are quarantined for exhibiting signs of infectious diseases, including the mumps.
CNN reports that the number of asylum seekers and other immigrant detainees being held along the border in towns like El Paso, Texas, has spiked since last year, and that ICE and United States Customs and Border Protection are dealing with more seriously ill immigrants than every before.
"As of March 7, 2019, there was a total of 2,287 detainees cohorted for exposure to a detainee with a contagious condition," an ICE spokesman said in a statement to media made earlier this week.
"In the past 12 months, there have been health investigations at 51 ICE detention facilities for mumps, chickenpox and influenza, according to [ICE officials]," CNN reports. "There have been 236 reported cases of mumps, with another 16 suspected cases during this time period."
At least three children have died in CBP custody since November, after contracting life-threatening illnesses and infections on their journey north to the United States-Mexico border from their homes in Honduras or Guatemala. In at least two cases, border patrol tried to provide emergency medical care but they were simply too late; the childrens' illnesses had advanced too far.
American immigration authorities are used to illegal immigrants and asylum seekers showing up to border patrol facilities exhibiting signs of illness, but over the past several years, most have eventually been disagnosed with influenza or the chicken pox — diseases that are still fairly common in the United States.
This past year, however, ICE and CBP officials have seen a major uptick in migrants with more serious, life-threatening illnesses, and dangerous communicable diseases like the mumps, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids and which could begin an outbreak among Americans if infected people are allowed to enter the general population.
The most serious outbreak has been in Texas, where around 200 people, aged 13-66, in a single border patrol facility are currently under quarantine for the mumps.
The situation poses problems not just for Americans, but also for migrants, and for the border patrol, whose facilities can't withstand an influx of illegal immigrants with serious medical issues.
The New York Times reports that border facilities are already woefully understaffed to handle the sharp increase in asylum seekers — border patrol can now see up to 2,000 people crossing the border per day — and the facilities lag even further behind when called upon to handle hundreds of patients with life-threatening illnesses.
Border patrol knows the situation is critical, and is expected to announce major medical facility expansions "in the coming days," the NYT says, and the Trump administration is looking for a major health care provider to contract with the CBP to provide medical services — a contract they may be willing to pay more than $47 million to complete.
But the problem is that Border Protection isn't a "humanitarian agency," and isn't supposed to be handling major disease outbreaks, leaving it at a loss for what to do about the thousands of criticially ill migrants who are showing up at the border every month.