Fears are mounting for the health of migrant children after reports of an outbreak of flu, tuberculosis and chicken pox at a non-profit shelter in the Chicago area.
Heartland Human Care Services, which operates five shelters in Illinois, said it has seen an increase in communicable diseases among minors who arrive there after processing at overtaxed Customs and Border Protection facilities at the border.
‘The largest increase in illness we are seeing currently is flu, fevers and strep throat,’ a Heartland spokesperson told DailyMail.com. ‘The spike in these contagious illnesses is significant and unlike what we have seen before.’
‘Historically, we have seen intermittent cases of TB and chicken pox; however, lately, we are seeing them come in clusters,’ the statement continued.
Heartland Human Care Services, which operates five shelters (above) in Illinois, said it has seen an increase in communicable diseases among minors who arrive there from CBP custody
One of Heartland’s facilities is seen above. The non-profit says children are arriving from CBP facilities with flu, chickenpox and tuberculosis
‘As always, children are provided routine medical care throughout their stay and receive immediate care for any acute or emergency health needs,’ the statement continued.
‘We want to underscore that we are dedicated to providing a safe haven to these children, who continue to be impacted by the inhumane and deplorable policies of the current federal administration,’ the spokesperson said.
Heartland’s facilities hold about 400 children who were detained by CBP after crossing the border illegally, the vast majority traveling as unaccompanied minors.
CBP is supposed to hand over custody of any unaccompanied children to Health and Human Services within 72 hours – though reports are widespread of massive backlogs that keep children in CBP processing for days and even weeks.
HHS contracts private shelters around the country, such as the ones operated by Heartland, to care for many of the children.
Although the details of the current contract are unclear, in 2015, Heartland received approximately $25 million in taxpayer funds for the care and placement of approximately 1,100 children, according to an HHS Inspector General report.
The non-profit said that of the 374 children currently in its custody, 15 had been separated from their parents, in most cases because of a pending or prior criminal charge against the parent, according to ProPublica Illinois, which first reported the outbreak.
Migrants who cross the border illegally are first processed in overcrowded CBP stations such as the one above in McAllen, Texas
Unaccompanied minors are then transferred to HHS, which contracts groups like Heartland to care for them. Snack time at a Heartland facility is seen above
The Heartland shelters have dealt with the increase in infections diseases by converting single-occupancy bedrooms into medical isolation rooms to quarantine the affected migrants.
Shelter officials said that the quarantines add further stress for children who are already exhibiting ‘behaviors consistent with trauma like heightened anxiety, and fearfulness’.
In an online fact sheet, Heartland officials stress that their shelters are different from the overwhelmed processing stations at the border.
‘Leaving children alone at the border to fend for themselves or at risk of detention in deplorable conditions is unacceptable,’ according to the fact sheet, which says the organization is ‘deeply committed to the fair treatment’ of refugees and asylum-seekers.
The average length of stay for children in Heartland facilities is currently 56 days, the organization says.
This chart shows apprehensions on the southern border this year (red) versus prior years
CBP says it has been overwhelmed by a huge surge in illegal crossings, and has called on Congress to fix legal loopholes that allow many Central Americans to remain in the U.S. indefinitely after crossing into the US illegally.
In June, 94,897 people were apprehended between ports of entry on the southern border, a drop off from May but well above last year’s number.
Since September, 63,624 unaccompanied children and 390,308 family units have been apprehended crossing the southern border illegally, numbers that are 70 percent and 469 percent higher that last year’s figures, respectively.
Full statements of Heartland Alliance
‘We are seeing an increase in contagious diseases across our population of children more recently entering our shelters, and we follow best practices and compassionate care to help the children heal and to keep the illnesses from spreading.
‘The largest increase in illness we are seeing currently is flu, fevers and strep throat. The spike in these contagious illnesses is significant and unlike what we have seen before.
‘Historically, we have seen intermittent cases of TB and chicken pox; however, lately, we are seeing them come in clusters. HHCS has licensed physicians on staff who treat any participant who comes to us ill.
‘As always, children are provided routine medical care throughout their stay and receive immediate care for any acute or emergency health needs. HHCS physicians are supported by onsite physician assistants and other nursing support staff. In addition, as needed, HHCS makes use of Chicago’s extensive healthcare and hospital system.’
‘Heartland Alliance continues to care for unaccompanied minors seeking refuge and safety in our country through the provision of nurturing, trauma-informed care at five Chicago shelters operated by Heartland Human Care Services.
‘A recent article references the condition in which children are arriving at our shelters – and our response to a more traumatized population. We want to underscore that we are dedicated to providing a safe haven to these children, who continue to be impacted by the inhumane and deplorable policies of the current federal administration.
‘Since last summer, and the devastating zero tolerance policy, we have added staff and strengthened our clinical, education, medical, and therapeutic services. The health and well-being of children in our care is of primary importance. All children we serve receive immediate care for any acute or emergency health needs and are provided routine medical care throughout their time with us.
‘We vehemently oppose the criminalization of children and families as a result of government immigration policies, and the inhumane treatment of children and families at the border. Please see [this fact sheet] to gain additional perspective on our approach to care, and the stark contrast to what is being reported at the borders.’