By Zachary Stieber
Thousands of young illegal immigrants with tuberculosis were released from U.S. government custody across one year, officials have revealed in a new report.
The illegal immigrants, all under 18 years of age, were released to family members or other responsible adults despite having latent tuberculosis infection, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a recent disclosure.
The dates of each release were not clear. HHS officials notified state officials from June 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023, of the tuberculosis-positive youth over a web-based system operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Aurora Miranda-Maese, an HHS official, told a court in the report.
The CDC, which is part of HHS, declined to comment. HHS did not respond to requests for comment.
The Washington Times first reported on the report, which runs 35 pages and covers other aspects of managing illegal immigrant youth who are transferred to HHS by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after crossing the border.
Ms. Miranda-Maese said that each minor must undergo a medical examination within two business days of entering HHS custody. The examination helps officials assess the minors’ health, enables them to administer vaccines, and allows them to detect communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.
A person with latent tuberculosis infection, or an infection without symptoms, requires three to nine months of treatment to prevent potential progression to active disease, according to HHS officials. Without treatment, 5 to 10 percent of infected people will develop active tuberculosis, or tubercolosis disease, according to the CDC.
The CDC says that people with the disease are infectious, can transmit the disease to others, and can die if not treated. If tuberculosis becomes active, that is “a threat to both the individual’s and the public’s health,” according to Ms. Miranda-Maese.
Minors do not typically receive treatment while in HHS custody because most are released before one month elapses, she said, opening up the possibility of problems such as the development of drug-resistant tuberculosis if treatment is initiated and discontinued before completion.
To that end, HHS developed in 2018 a system that notifies state officials of illegal immigrant minors who have been sent to live in their states.
Officials in 44 states received more than 2,450 alerts of illegal immigrant minors with tuberculosis in the year ending May 31, 2023, according to HHS.
Over that same time, 126,069 minors were released by HHS.
Some states confirmed that they’ve been told of minors with active tuberculosis, in addition to latent cases.
“The department, in conjunction with local health departments, coordinates care and appropriate follow-up for anyone with active tuberculosis reported through this mechanism,” a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health told The Epoch Times via email.
And some minors, by the time states are alerted to cases, have already moved elsewhere.
“Some individuals relocate prior to case interviews,” a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources told The Epoch Times in an email.
Even if they haven’t, minors can choose not to undergo offered treatment, according to the spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Public Health.
Critics said President Joe Biden was to blame for the situation.
“Biden’s broken border policies continue to welcome millions of lawbreakers into our country, including countless thousands with infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) told The Epoch Times via email. “Rather than protecting Americans, the Biden regime is quite literally bringing disease and death to our doorstep.”
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said that the releases of children with tuberculosis and other communicable diseases “is another example of the administration prioritizing the quick release of migrants over all other considerations, including public health, public safety, and national security.”
Placement With Sponsors
HHS deals with unaccompanied minors or children who arrive at the border without a responsible adult.
The number of unaccompanied minors has ballooned in recent years, prompting the agency to ramp up the number of beds it has for the children.
To try to avoid overcrowding, HHS has tried to quickly move children to sponsors, or adults who are family members or otherwise interested in hosting the kids.
There have been problems with the system, including sending children to strangers who aren’t properly vetted, a whistleblower said earlier this year. Some of the people have been identified as traffickers who force children to work on farms with no pay.
“Very often, the kids wind up working hours in dangerous jobs to pay off their debts to the cartels that got them here. Even worse, others are trafficked and put to work in the sex trades,” Mr. Mehlman said.
He recommends Congress enact legislation that would deter unaccompanied minors from coming to the United States and that HHS properly vet sponsors and isolate children with communicable diseases.
Illegal immigrants for years have been crossing the border with diseases like tuberculosis, sparking concerns.
“A lot of these aliens coming in are carrying contagious health conditions, things like chicken pox, scabies, tuberculosis, lice,” Aaron Hull, the chief for the Border Patrol’s El Paso, Texas sector, said in a 2019 interview on Fox News.
According to federal law, immigrants are not allowed to be admitted into the United States unless they present documentation of vaccination against “vaccine-preventable diseases,” including tetanus, polio, and measles. Tuberculosis is not included.
Many of the immigrants have not received any vaccines, Kevin McAleenan, at the time the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told Congress in 2019.
“Many individuals we encounter may have never seen a doctor, received immunizations, or lived in sanitary conditions,” he said. “Close quarters on trains and buses can hasten the spread of communicable diseases.”