The Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has placed over 2,000 migrants quarantine due to a series of disease outbreaks in detention centers across the United States.
A total of 236 probable and confirmed cases of mumps have been recorded in the past 12 months in 51 facilities, including in Texas where 186 people were diagnosed with the highly contagious diseases were recorded since October.
Reuters has spoken to Christian Mejia, a migrant detained at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana, about his experience at the facility. He recounted that in January, he and a hundred other detainees were placed into quarantine after an outbreak of mumps.
During the lockdown, Mejia, who was seeking asylum to the United States from Honduras, was barred from meeting his lawyer. While in quarantine, his immigration court case was conducted over a video conference.
By Feb. 12, a judge ordered to deport him.
“When there is just one person who is sick, everybody pays,” the 19-year-old said in a phone interview.
He also revealed that those who were placed in quarantine inside the privately-run facility were denied access to the library and the dining hall for weeks.
Mumps spreads when infected individual coughs or sneezes. A person who has the disease might experience swollen or tender salivary glands under one or both ears.
The disease is highly contagious, but some people show very mild or even no symptoms. Most people recover within a few weeks, but it might also lead to serious complications such as brain swelling and hearing loss if left unchecked.
Last year, outbreaks of influenza (affecting 423 detainees) and chickenpox (infecting 461 migrants) were reported in ICE facilities. All three aforementioned illnesses are preventable by vaccines.
According to Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the growing number of migrants from Central America is to blame for the recent outbreaks. He said that the number of migrants traveling long distances have overwhelmed border officials.
“We are seeing migrants arrive with illnesses and medical conditions in unprecedented numbers,” McAleenan stated in a press conference.
Reuters noted that vaccination rates are high (over 90 percent) in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Over 50,000 migrants coming from all over the world were in detention at an ICE facility as of March 6.