U.S. Not Providing Flu Vaccines in Immigration Jails Even After Kids Have Died

Mexican Health Ministry representatives give migrants waiting to apply for asylum in the U.S. free shots for the flu, hepatitis B, tetanus, and preventible children’s diseases at the Barretal shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, in December 2018.
Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

The U.S. won’t be providing vaccinations for migrant families held in government custody ahead of the next flu season, CNBC reported on Tuesday, despite the infection playing a role in the deaths of at least three children.

In a statement to CNBC, a CBP spokeswoman said the agency and its medical contractors don’t offer the vaccines to those hold in detention because of the “short-term nature of CBP holding and the complexities of operating vaccination programs.”

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In a letter to Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro and California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard earlier this month, doctors urged Congress to investigate health conditions at immigration detention centers. As CNBC reported, the doctors wrote that while children dying of the flu is rare—the death rate is only about 1 in 600,000 children—three children out of 200,000 people have died in immigration custody in part from the flu. The doctors also wrote that the close conditions in detention centers make it easier for diseases like the flu to spread.

In the past year and three months alone, at least seven children have died while in or shortly after being released from immigration custody; before that, no child had died in immigration detention for nearly a decade. One of these children, 1-year-old Mariee Juárez, died of a respiratory infection she contracted in ICE custody with her mother. In December, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo died of a flu and staph infection diagnosis that led to sepsis while in custody.

Amid these fresh concerns, there was already plenty to worry about. In June, lawyers who visited an overcrowded child detention center outside of El Paso, TX, reported horrific conditions, telling the Associated Press that they were told by children that they had gone weeks without bathing and were being fed uncooked, frozen food. At the time, lawyers said at least 15 children at the facility had the flu, some of whom were quarantined.

In July, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found that Rio Grande Valley facilities suffered from “dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults,” with children sometimes having no access to showers and no hot meals.

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Samantha Grasso

Splinter Staff Writer, Texan