The busiest Border Patrol facility in the U.S. was forced to shut down this week over a “flu-like” outbreak involving dozens of illegal immigrants that’s now infecting agents and the public.
At least 32 illegal immigrants tested positive for influenza and others are suffering symptoms of strep throat, viruses, and colds at the McAllen Central Processing Center in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, which forced officials to quarantine the facility to contain the outbreaks.
#BORDERNEWS As the McAllen Central Processing Center, the busiest processing facility in the nation, closed and now re-opened, it’s not only the immigrants that are getting sick. Border Patrol agents are also falling ill according to the @BPUnion #RGV #BorderPatrol #Flu pic.twitter.com/jMfG2nW1jc
— Sydney Hernandez (@SydneyKGBT) May 22, 2019
Border Patrol officials stopped transfers to and from the processing center Tuesday before re-opening on Wednesday, KGBT reports.
“Some of them are sick. Some of them have some type of virus or flu or cold but it just hasn’t shown up yet,” agent Chris Cabrera, with the National Border Patrol Council, told the news station. “And then what ultimately happens is once they get released they get on a bus, which is obviously a confined space, and they travel to other parts of the country with whatever they had with them along the way, which can range from strep throat to the flu to tuberculosis.”
The complications to the already strained situation comes as federal officials are transferring hundreds of illegal immigrants from the Rio Grande Valley Sector to other areas of the country for processing, including 100 flown to San Diego on Friday, KGTV reports.
San Diego Border Patrol Chief Doug Harrison told the news site he expects the transfers to continue with about three flights per week with Immigration and Customs Enforcement aircraft. The transfers are spawned by the overwhelming numbers of illegal immigrants flooding across the border every day, coupled with a national policy preventing immigration officials from holding migrant families for more than 20 days, he said.
The Rio Grande Valley facility, Harrison said, is 200 percent over capacity and about 4,500 illegal immigrants are coming into the U.S. every day.
“We got to give the people in Rio Grande Valley some relief,” he said.
The flights to San Diego and elsewhere are in addition to the thousands of illegal immigrants released with bus tickets and a court date, as well as others transferred to different processing facilities by bus.
The buses, planes and overcrowded processing centers are all perfect places to transfer the flu and other diseases, physician assistant Erika Gomez told KGBT.
“It’s very possible you might get it,” Gomez said of the flu, “especially if you are in close proximity to that person, and if that person coughs, sneezes, ya, more than likely you will catch it.”
It’s a reality that Cabrera said is straining the Border Patrol’s resources at a time when they need all the help they can get.
“The majority of our agents are either sick or have been sick recently,” he said. “Every day we have people call in sick for real illnesses. There’s days when we have multiple, 10, 15, sometimes 19, 20 guys who call in sick because they’re sick from actually being in the building.
“Obviously we don’t close. We’re going to continue pushing on the best we can.”