U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirms that there are four cases of chickenpox among the detainee population at the Eloy Detention Center, but immigrant-rights advocates say there could be more.
"We personally don't believe that it's only four," Francisca Porchas, organizing director of the immigrant-rights group Puente Arizona, told New Times. "It doesn't add up to what we're hearing from the people being detained there."
The facility, located about 60 miles south of Phoenix, is owned by a for-profit company, Corrections Corporation of America. It houses about 1,500 immigrants who are awaiting the outcome of their deportation proceedings.
Porchas said her group has been told by a number of immigrants detained at Eloy that up to 800 people there are quarantined, though it's unclear how many of them have chickenpox.
"That's pretty alarming," Porchas said.
In a statement emailed to New Times, ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe said no more than 20 people are being kept separate from the general detainee population at Eloy owing to the chickenpox outbreak. That includes 16 people who may have been exposed to the disease and are being closely monitored by ICE Health Service Corps medical staff on site.
"ICE is committed to ensuring the health and welfare of all those in its custody," O'Keefe said in the statement. "Accordingly, the agency has stringent protocols in place to prevent the spread of illness and treat any detainees who are diagnosed."
Those protocols may include monitoring, treatment, follow-up, immunization, and isolation.
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Immigration advocates have long complained about the health and safety of detainees inside Eloy. A 2011 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that detainees' requests for medical care were not taken seriously and that detainees experienced delays before receiving treatment.
One woman interviewed for this story said her husband has been detained at Eloy for six months. Adela, who spoke on condition that her last name not be published, said her husband told her during a visit this past weekend that he hasn't contracted chickenpox but knew of several detainees who have it. "I'm worried about his health," she said, adding that she doesn't believe he has had chickenpox before.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Symptoms include a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases typically are mild in children. But for those who get chickenpox for the first time as adults, it can be serious and even fatal.
The disease can spread easily. According to information on the CDC website, a person who has never had chickenpox or been vaccinated can get it by touching or breathing in the virus particles or droplets that come from chickenpox blisters.