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Number of sick kids soars at border; tuberculosis, flu, infections land migrants in hospitals

December 31, 2018

Border authorities are referring 50 people a day for urgent medical care, including tuberculosis, flu and even pregnant women about to give birth, a top official said Monday, saying it’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

Most of those in need of care are children, and a staggering 28 percent are under age 5, having been dragged along for the trip by parents who in many cases are hoping to use the children as a shield against speedy deportation from the U.S.

The numbers were released after a full review was done of all children in custody of Customs and Border Protection in the wake of two illegal immigrant juveniles who died in U.S. hospitals in December.

CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said most of those needing help were ill when they arrived at the border, and some appear to have made the initial decision to leave even while ailing.

“Many were ill before they departed their homes,” the commissioner said. “We’re talking about cases of pneumonia, tuberculosis, parasites. These are not things that developed urgently in a matter of days.”

Agents have spotted a new trend in the traffic from Central America to the U.S., with smuggling organizations using commercial buses to get people through the journey in less than a week. That’s far faster than the 25 to 30 days it takes most migrants who walk or take a mixture of transportation to get from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras through Mexico and to the border.

Mr. McAleenan said the commercial buses are also delivering migrants to parts of the border such as western Texas and New Mexico that have traditionally been less afflicted by the illegal flow of people.

And the faster trip makes it easier for sick people to come, and provides “confidence for parents to bring younger children” along as well, he said.

As of Monday, 17 of the people referred for medical care were still hospitalized, Mr. McAleenan said.

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