By Stephen Rex Brown
Jun 11, 2019
A New Jersey jail holding immigrants who are awaiting deportation hearings is under quarantine because of an outbreak of mumps, public defenders told the Daily News Tuesday.
At least four units in Bergen County jail holding around 50 detainees each are affected, Legal Aid immigration attorney Jennifer Williams said. Food at the jail has been discarded, she said, because kitchen staff were exposed to the highly contagious disease.
“We’re obviously very concerned about the health and safety of our clients,” Williams said. “It’s just abominable this has happened at our New York jails. It’s just an ever increasing problem – how ICE is handling the medical care of detainees.”
A spokesman for the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, which rents part of the facility to ICE, said five cases of mumps have been diagnosed. The jail holds immigrants whose deportation cases are heard at an Immigration Court on Varick St.
Late Tuesday, Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton said the jail would not take additional ICE detainees and that the entire facility was under “an umbrella quarantine.”
“The Bergen County Sheriff’s Office is working with nearby facilities to house incoming inmates. In addition, the Jail will halt the housing of additional ICE detainees. However, accommodations are being made to allow for the continuation of jail visitations," Cureton said in a statement.
"The five cases which have been clinically diagnosed as the mumps, but not confirmed, will be further isolated at the Jail. The Bergen County Jail is working in close cooperation with the Bergen County Health Department and in response, MMR booster vaccines will be offered to the jail population and BCSO personnel.”
Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco told NBC New York the jail was under a “nobody in, nobody out” policy until officials determine how to handle the situation.
The outbreak is likely to cause more delays in the city’s immigration court, which is already grappling with an unprecedented backlog of cases.
Mumps involves swelling of the salivary glands and can easily spread through the air, especially in close quarters. Complications include brain swelling, sterility and hearing loss, though most people recover in a few weeks.
The outbreak came two weeks after The News reported that ICE had transferred 237 immigrants detained at the border to jails near the city due to a lack of space closer to Mexico. Late last month Houston Public Media reported that ICE jails in Texas were fighting an outbreak of mumps.
“It’s just outrageous the number of detention centers that are experiencing outbreaks of infectious diseases that should have and could have been prevented at the border,” Williams said.
A report released just last week by Homeland Security’s internal watchdog noted inadequate medical care at a nearby ICE jail in Essex County.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan has acknowledged that preventing outbreaks of illnesses among people being detained is challenging.
“Migrants travel north from countries where poverty and disease are rampant, and their health can be aggravated by the physical toll of the journey. Many individuals we encounter may have never seen a doctor, received immunizations, or lived in sanitary conditions," McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March. “Close quarters on trains and buses can hasten the spread of communicable diseases. All of these factors leave migrants vulnerable to serious medical complications.”
There was no indication that the mumps outbreak has extended to ICE jails in Orange and Hudson Counties, which also hold immigrant detainees whose cases are heard in the city immigration court.
ICE guidelines require that detainees who are exposed to mumps be quarantined for 25 days. The rules also recommend all the detainees be vaccinated.