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U.S. Border Patrol's central processing center in McAllen, Texas, on July 17, 2018. Photo by Loren Elliott/Reuters

Border holding center to reopen after 32 migrants get the flu

SAN DIEGO (AP) — More than 30 migrants have tested positive for influenza at a major processing center on the Mexican border that was temporarily closed to stop the outbreak, authorities said Wednesday.

It was unclear if anyone ill came in contact with a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who was held at the facility in McAllen, Texas, and died Monday, a day after he was diagnosed and transferred to a smaller station. Carlos Hernandez Vasquez was detained for six days, twice as long as generally allowed by U.S. law.

The 32 sick children and adults have been quarantined at a smaller processing center, according to a U.S. Border Patrol official who spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity because there is an ongoing investigation. Their ages were unknown.

The center has been cleaned and will soon reopen but the closure, however temporary, further strained an overstretched system. Migrants were sent to other stations during the brief shutdown.

The 77,000-square foot processing center is a converted warehouse that holds hundreds of parents and children at a time in large, fenced-in pens. Modeled after a similar facility in Nogales, Arizona, built for an influx of Central Americans in 2014, it has separate pods for boys who came alone, girls who came alone and parents with their young children.

Some older children are split from their parents to avoid having them mix with much younger children.

Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, which includes McAllen, is the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The Border Patrol made 36,681 arrests in the area in April, nearly three of every four coming in family units or as children traveling alone.

Hernandez Vasquez was the fifth child since December to die after being apprehended by border agents, putting authorities under growing pressure and scrutiny to care for migrant children.

Border Patrol agents have averaged 69 trips to the hospital a day since Dec. 22 and about 153,000 hours monitoring detained population at hospitals, the official said.

Authorities have also cleaned other holding facilities in South Texas, including Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Kingsville and highway checkpoints.

Migrants are not being vaccinated at Border Patrol stations, but they may be when hospitalized, the official said. The Border Patrol is offering vaccines to agents working.

Long reported from Washington.

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