Containing Scabies at the Border

By Dan Cadman on June 6, 2014

A reader forwarded me a link to an article relating to a serious outbreak of scabies among illegal aliens — and, as a consequence, the Border Patrol agents who apprehend them — in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

For those who don’t know, scabies, although treatable, is a highly contagious disease caused by mites. It is transmitted skin-to-skin (such as would happen when taking an illegal border crosser into custody, patting him down, placing on cuffs, etc.).

As the reader notes, the news is disturbing in many respects.

First, apparently the spread of the disease went unnoticed until it became (literally) painfully evident among the infected agents who got treated. Alarmingly, perhaps as many as a quarter of the individuals being apprehended are infected and, according to the article, apprehensions in the Valley are soaring: In the first eight months of the federal fiscal year, agents have arrested about the same number as were arrested in all of the prior year.

This looks like a health crisis of significant proportion; one worth attending to and containing as quickly as possible, which leads us to my next point: No health care professionals have been assigned by the federal government to track down and isolate the infected individuals until long after they have left the temporary custody of the Border Patrol for further processing or removal. Why is this? At the first indicator of this kind of trouble, Public Health Service (PHS) officers should have been detailed to triage incoming arrestees and ensure that a regimen was established to help protect the health of the federal agents coming into contact with those infected. It is not as if there are no PHS officers available to do this. There is a whole corps of PHS officers permanently assigned to another immigration enforcement component of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Next we have to ask how and why it is that no one officially wants to speak about the matter, leaving only the Border Patrol union to make it known publicly, even though the health implications to the populace at large are (or should be) self-evident. Is this another example of the administration tamping down, for political reasons, anything that might disturb their ongoing and false narrative that the border is under control and that amnesty should go forward? Although, as mentioned, scabies is treatable, it gives pause to ask what other untreated and contagious diseases are crossing the border unnoticed, or worse, noticed but not mentioned for fear of upsetting the political apple cart.

Finally, there is this: when the local member of Congress was contacted by the media to see if he was aware of the outbreak, his response was, "I have made a formal request to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to investigate the reports of overcrowding and disease among the detainees at the McAllen Border Patrol facility." Good, and certainly important, but couldn’t he have made mention of the officers affected too? Or don’t they count?