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Chicken Pox Spreads To Even More Immigrant Detainees At Victorville Prison

Victorville Federal Prison Complex (Photo by Libby Denkmann)
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What started as a few cases of chicken pox among immigrant detainees at the Victorville federal prison has now spread, with as many as half those held there under quarantine.

The union representing prison officers says there's not enough staff, including health care workers, to care for the detainees and attorneys have had to temporarily cancel sessions to inform the immigrants about their legal rights. Many are seeking asylum.

Attorneys won a temporary injunction back in June allowing them to visit the detainees and conduct presentations to inform them of their legal rights. They've been unable to do so since last week Tuesday.

"For the last week, we've had to suspend presentations, because there's been a quarantine in effect," said attorney Meeth Soni with Immigrant Defenders. The pro-bono law firm, along with the ACLU, sued the federal government to allow detainees access to legal counsel.

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Immigration officials transferred close to 1,000 immigrant detainees to the prison in early June after they were arrested at the southern border.

Not long afterward, they were beset by an outbreak of chicken pox, followed by an outbreak of scabies, an infectious skin disease.

Federal Bureau of Prisons officials would not comment on the ongoing health issues, citing pending litigation.

But John Kostelnik, who heads Local 3969 of the American Federation of Government Employee that represents the guards, confirmed Friday that roughly half the detainees held at Victorville were under quarantine. He said the quarantine is due to multiple cases of chicken pox. Some have the disease, while others have been exposed to it.

"Just in the past, I'd say, two weeks, we've had 10 or 12 additional cases ... we just found two more yesterday," Kostelnik said. "The chicken pox are kind of going out of control right now."

Kostelnik said there is not enough staff to adequately screen and care for the detainees.

Soni with Immigrant Defenders said she's been told the "know-your-rights" legal presentations will resume next week. She said this is the second major disease quarantine among the Victorville detainees since the outbreaks of chicken pox and scabies after they were transferred to the prison in early June.

Soni and other attorneys have complained of unsanitary conditions at the prison. They say detainees having been forced to go without clean clothing for long periods of time.

Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a second lawsuit alleging "inhumane" conditions at the Victorville center, including inadequate food and health care.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons would not comment on the quarantine, health issues or conditions at the facility, saying they are the subject of legal proceedings.

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