The federal government’s new facility to house illegal immigrant families surging across the border has been put on lockdown because of chicken pox, with no immigrants allowed to be transferred in or out, a congressman said this week.
Hundreds of illegal immigrants being kept at the campus of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, are being treated for and vaccinated against chicken pox after an outbreak, said Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican congressman whose district includes Artesia.
“As the FLETC facility reaches maximum capacity, I am increasingly concerned for the health and safety of the women and children at FLETC and for the local community. The virus, that has caused two residents to be put in isolation, has halted all departures,” Mr. Pearce said.
He said he’s asked the Homeland Security Department, which runs the facility, to be available to handle calls from the community.
The chicken pox outbreak is the latest hiccup for federal officials struggling to gain a handle on the surge of illegal immigrants from Central America this year.
While most of the attention has been on the children traveling without their parents, the border has been flooded by an almost equal number of families from Central America — usually women bringing their children with them. While unaccompanied children were being turned over to social workers, the families were eligible for quick deportations — except the government had fewer than 100 beds to hold the thousands of people being apprehended.
The Artesia facility was supposed to be an answer to that, with officials saying it could house hundreds more woman and children.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited Artesia earlier this month and said it was proof that the U.S. can hold and deport some of the surge of illegal immigrants.
Medical issues have been a major concern for U.S. officials as they grapple with the surge. All of the immigrants are being screened for health issues — and in many cases, it marks the first time they’ve ever seen a doctor, border officials and volunteers have told The Washington Times.
Local elected officials have objected in a number of instances to having the children shipped to facilities in their states or districts, leaving the Health and Human Services Department to keep most of the locations secret. A number of governors and mayors have objected, saying they were blindsided by transfers.
On Wednesday, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, introduced a bill that would give governors a chance to refuse to have unaccompanied children transferred into their states.
“While I recognize the severity and sensitivity of this crisis, we must secure the border and make a clear statement to those seeking citizenship in the United States: Illegal activity will not be rewarded,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “The administration should be transparent about its intentions. States should be fully informed of HHS’s plans to house UACs within their communities, and governors should have the ability to prevent the federal government from establishing housing facilities in their state.”