Report finds detention center workers exposed to contagious diseases

Some Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees have become sick after exposure to contagious diseases at detention facilities housing child immigrants, according to an inspector general report. 

The report found “many” of the children detained after crossing the border needed treatment for communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, chicken pox and scabies. 

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The report was issued Thursday by DHS Inspector General John Roth.

It highlighted one instance at a Del Rio facility in Texas in which Customs and Border Patrol employees reported contracting scabies, lice and chicken pox. At other facilities in Santa Teresa, N.M., and Clint, Texas, employees said they could have been exposed to tuberculosis. 

“Unfamiliarity with bathroom facilities resulted in unsanitary conditions and exposure to human waste in some holding facilities,” the report concluded. “Contract cleaners and DHS employees are working to maintain sanitary conditions.”

The nine-page report is based on information gathered from 87 unannounced visits to 63 centers in the first party of July, and is expected to be updated in the coming months. 

The facilities include Border Patrol checkpoints and holding facilities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers and one holding facility in Artesia, N.M.

Along with the illnesses, the report found that the children are being held longer than the maximum three days because permanent shelter is not available. In one instance, a facility was not giving children enough food, but that was quickly corrected. 

“Sites and their staff were found to be largely in compliance with rules and regulations,” the inspector general said in a statement. “Some problems were identified, including children requiring treatment for communicable diseases and DHS employees who have become ill from contact with their charges.”

The facilities are the first point of detention and screening for the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have entered the country illegally this year, most from Central America. 

They are then supposed to be turned over to the Health and Human Services Department to find a sponsor to care for them while awaiting a deportation hearing. 

The administration has asked Congress to pass emergency funding to help deal with the surge. However, the parties are split over what to do, and it is unclear whether legislation will be approved before Congress adjourns for its five-week recess.

The report found that in some cases, DHS employees have used their own money to purchase food for the children, as well as donating clothing and games. 

The employee-to-minor ratio is inconsistent at facilities, and not all facilities post policies in English and Spanish. 

The inspectors worked off a checklist that included standards like sanitation, potable water, emergency medical care and adequate supervision. 

The inspector general recommended producing a “know your rights and responsibilities” video that could be shown to children in either English or Spanish. 

The department has also opened investigations into allegations of numerous violations brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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