Wave of Children of Illegal Immigrants Creates Worry About Disease

While children of legal immigrants are given medical exams and proof of immunization upon entering the US, those who come to the country illegally could be carrying diseases that can be quickly and easily spread to US residents.

Even if immigrants are detained, the screenings they receive are not nearly as rigorous and are often not effective.  In other words, there may be a potential public health crisis looming on the US’s southern border.

Immigrant children who enter the US may carry diseases that are endemic to other countries, but not so in their new home country.  These diseases may include, but are not limited to: sexually transmitted diseases, active tuberculosis, new strains of influenza, leprosy, and cholera.

Marc Siegel, writing for Slate, says that the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a requirement that all legal immigrants receive a medical exam and proof of immunization for the same diseases for which American children are vaccinated.

The problem is that none of this is done for people who enter the US illegally and undetected.

Up to 50,000 children are being contained in makeshift detention centers by the US government.  They are not there to have an illness identified.  The only way that officers can detect an illness is if the detainee reports it.

Many times, the person is sent to another state, where their disease can spread. Health workers at these camps are overwhelmed, with growing numbers of scabies rash and the swine flu in the southwest Texas and Arizona centers.

Other diseases being documented are drug-resistant tuberculosis and dengue fever, a potentially fatal mosquito-borne illness, measles, and chicken pox.  The dilemma is how to provide compassionate and appropriate care, while not endangering well children.

HHS has activated its Emergency Operations Center to Level III, 24-hour alert in support of “the urgent humanitarian situation of unaccompanied children along the southwest border”.

The El Paso Children’s Hospital has treated 50-60 immigrant children and is charging the federal government for the expense.  Las Palmas Medical Center, also in El Paso, reports it has treated 5-10 patients a day and has confirmed cases of scabies and lice, according to KFOX.

“Everyone is covered under MedPAR, it’s a federal program run by ICE,” said El Paso Sector Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero. “That’s how we pay the hospitals. We screen everybody; If there’s something our medics can’t take care of, we have to take them to the hospitals.”

More than 52,000 children under the age of 18 have been turned over to the HHS after being caught byborder patrol agentsalong the southwest border.  Normally, the children are reunited with their families within a few weeks.

Twenty-three shelters  have been opened by Southwest Key in Texas, Arizona, and California.  Although there are communities who do not want a shelter in their neighborhood because  of  “crime and disease, as well as traffic and parking problems for the surrounding neighborhood,” Sen. Norma Torres (D- California), herself from Guatemala, was compassionate towards the children.

“They are very much kids,” she said. “ They’re not thinking about anything other than trying to live another day, and trying to survive and trying to find a relative here in the US”

President Barack Obama has called this situation a humanitarian crisis and has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to help deal with it.  Obama has also said that most of the Central American children here illegally will ultimately be deported.