Barbara Gonzalez, public information officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, shows a dormitory where immigrant families are housed at the Artesia Residential Detention Facility inside the Federal Law Enforcement Center in Artesia, N.M. on Friday, July 11, 2014. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the facility Friday and warned immigrants that "we will send you back" if they try crossing into the country. (AP Photo/Pool, El Paso Times, Rudy Gutierrez)
A confirmed case of chicken pox has halted all deportations and arrivals to a brand new immigrant detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico.
This is the same facility KFOX14 toured just weeks after it opened up at the end of June. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman explained the situation to KFOX14.
“One of the residents at the Artesia Residential Family Center has been diagnosed with chicken pox,” said ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa. “The individual is being treated by medical professionals, and necessary precautions are being taken to protect the other detainees at the center. ICE has contacted both local and health officials, and is closely monitoring the situation. This case does not pose a health risk to the local community. Out of an abundance of caution, ICE has temporarily halted the intake and removal of detainees from the facility."
The facility has a capacity of 700, and houses only family units. That means there are no unaccompanied children or solo adults. Only a child and one or both parents.
El Paso Public Health Director Ruben Resendes told KFOX14 the odds of the virus not spreading in the shelter are very low.
“If you have chicken pox, you are infectious two days before you even start showing symptoms,” he said.
ICE gives a medical screening to all undocumented immigrants when they arrive at detention facilities, but the virus may not be detectable at all times because of this reason.
“It’s one of the most contagious viruses out there,” Resendes said. “Skin to skin, airborne, people used to have chicken pox parties and everyone in the room would get it.”
Resendes told KFOX14 while chicken pox is normally fairly mild for children, it can be very severe for adults if they get it a second time.
“The virus stays with you, and adults can get shingles,” he said. “It gives you a severe and painful rash around your torso, and it’s very contagious.”
A border patrol spokesman told KFOX14 agents give medical screenings to every detainee before turning them over to ICE, and admitted that detecting chicken pox can be very difficult in its early days.
He told KFOX14 most border agents are vaccinated against chicken pox because they went to school in the United States, and are mandated to be vaccinated.
New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce first broke news of the chicken pox case at the Artesia facility.
In a statement, he showed concern about the effects it could have on the surrounding community in 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," said Pearce. "Our office communicated to DHS officials outlining our concerns with impacting local citizens, posing risks to the local community and draining limited county medical resources. Our office has called for DHS to talk to the community directly, and answer all questions and concerns about all matters at FLETC, through open town hall meetings or forums.”
For more go to KFOXTV.com.