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A medical breakdown at the border is the latest crisis facing immigrant children. Over the past year tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America have flooded the U.S. Border seeking refugee status. The Border Control Processing Centers are overwhelmed as they try to screen the children before giving them over to the Department of Health and Human Services for more stable housing.
The unaccompanied minors began to arrive in 2011. As many as 77,200 children are expected to be apprehended at the border in 2014. The current system was developed to handle 6,000 to 8,000 immigrant children per year with many of the current procedures put in place to protect them from human trafficking. Most of the children are arriving at the Border Patrol facility in Nogales, Arizona. The laws of Congress give Border Control a maximum of 72 hours to process them before handing them over HHS. The director of refugee health, part of HHS, “has identified a breakdown of the medical screening processes,” according to a Department of Defense memo. The breakdown occurs during the transfer of children between the Department of Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Health and Human Services. Many children showing signs of illness are boarding planes for other parts of the country.
Thousands of immigrant children are being flown to the Naval Base in Ventura County, California. The facility there is already struggling to house, feed and maintain the safety of children in overcrowded conditions. A full blown outbreak of influenza or pneumonia could tip the precarious balance. Three children arriving at the base had to be put in the ICU of local hospitals. Others arrived with chicken pox and the coxsackie virus. Children with fevers and flu-like symptoms were flown out of border control facilities, putting the health of workers and other children at risk. In Texas, there have been confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. A medical breakdown at the border is the latest crisis caused by the influx of immigrant children.
The Administration for Children and Families says the breakdown occurs because there is only one health screening. The immigrant children are screened as they enter the Nogales facility, but if they are healthy at that time they do not see another health worker. One solution may be to institute a “fit to fly” screening. However, with detainees well beyond capacity and Congress dragging its feet about allocating more money and staff to the CBP, that solution may not be feasible.
It is important to note that diseases have not spread beyond the facilities housing the immigrant children. These children are basically quarantined from surrounding American communities. Also, the nations that these children are escaping, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, have childhood vaccination rates comparable to the United States. Most of these Central American children have been vaccinated for measles, tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and polio.
Besides high rates of vaccination, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador also have high murder rates. A civilian in these countries is more likely to be murdered than a civilian of Iraq during the height of the insurgency in 2007. The world recognizes this part of Central America as being in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Violent gangs are taking control of society with governments nearly helpless to stop them due to lack of resources and expertise. Gangs, such as MS-13, forcibly recruit children and teens. Some commentators say that the only option to violence and crime for young people is to leave the country. Because of the dangers in their home nations, these children are seeking asylum in the U.S., and therefore cannot just be turned away. By law they must be provided housing until their cases can be brought to court. Due to the backlog of court cases, this could take 19 months or more.
Many Americans are angry about the immigrant children and feel the only way to stem the flood is to send them back to Central America, while others feel that the United States must take some responsibility for the conditions that are causing these children to flee. Most of the violent gangs, notably MS-13 and MS-18, were spawned in the streets and prisons of America, say experts. In the late 1990s laws were changed to make it easier to deport criminals. Between 2000 and 2004 approximately 20,000 young criminals were sent back to Central America. Most had grown up in the United States and many did not even speak Spanish. They sought out the familiar – their fellow gang members. The governments of these nations were uninformed and unprepared to deal with the gang problems. It did not take long for the gangs to become powerful and cross border crime networks. They have established a flourishing drug trade and commit thousands of murders every year.
Some government officials feel that fleeing conscription into the gangs is a necessity for many of the immigrant children now held at the border; others say the U.S. should immediately send them back to their home countries. It may not be as much an immigration problem as an international human rights issue, say Democratic leaders. The United States is in the tricky position of protecting its own interests while the children of Central America are dumped on its doorstep. Simply sending them home may not be a viable option at all. In the meantime, the children may be bringing diseases and illness into the country. A complete medical breakdown at the border is the latest crisis caused by the influx of immigrant children.
By: Rebecca Savastio