MCALLEN, Texas — Many asylum seekers released at the Texas-Mexico border are being treated for a variety of illnesses. Some become sick before crossing the border while others get sick in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.
The care of the migrants has become increasingly dependent on local organizations and volunteers who are filling a void left by the federal government.
A daily stream of immigration buses pull up and drop off dozens of asylum-seeking families in front of the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.
It’s been common practice since the start of the Central American exodus in 2014. However, the rate in which these buses are unloading migrants is notably higher and it’s taxing the ability of local charities to care for them.
“There have been some medical concerns about, 'Is there enough help? What do they need?’” said Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Chief Administrator Eduardo Olivares.
Olivares told the KENS 5 Border Team they are monitoring the situation with volunteer physicians, pediatricians and nurses constantly screening arriving migrants.
“There hasn’t been any major communicable disease or infectious disease outbreak,” assured Olivares. “The thing we did notice was an uptick in respiratory infections, which may have been flu related or similar to flu.”
“There’s too many children at the shelter,” complained Elvin Arqueta. “Children get sick easier.”
The 25-year-old Honduran developed a cold while his 4-year-old daughter got an ear infection sometime between arriving to the border and before leaving the respite center.
Catholic Charities gave them medication to take with them on their long ride to Pennsylvania where they hope to reunite with family.
Others aren’t so lucky.
“Our CBP folks spend about 57 hospital visits a day,” noted U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “That’s not indicative of how many people are sick. It’s how many people are very seriously sick.”
Four migrants have reportedly died in Border Patrol custody in the last four months, including a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl and an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy.
Nielsen pointed to a system over capacity in a visit to McAllen Thursday.
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said he helped appropriate at least $1 million in 2014 to reimburse local entities at the border -- money that he said Texas has spent on other programs.
“The problem right now: it goes from the federal government to the state government,” he said.
Cuellar wants to return to Washington and change the budget language to help alleviate the burden.