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LOS ANGELES — An immigrant detainee at a federal Bureau of Prisons facility about two hours northeast of L.A. has tested positive for chickenpox, and the president of the local prison guard union says he fears for the health of jailers there.
The bureau said in a statement that the detainee in its facility in the high desert community of Victorville, California, has been isolated and that officials are "taking the necessary precautionary measures to protect staff, inmates and the community from the possibility of being exposed to this virus."
The patient is one of about 1,000 unauthorized immigrants moved to Federal Correctional Institution Victorville Medium II because federal authorities were running out of bed space as a result of "the current surge in illegal border crossings," according to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
John Kostelnik, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3969, said the detainees from places like Central America and South Asia were bused in starting June 8. He alleged that the prison was overwhelmed, understaffed, and did not conduct proper health and gang-affiliation screenings normally afforded inmates.
Now a few of the detainees have also been diagnosed with scabies, Kostelnik said. "They don't have room for them in the medical area, so they're isolated in their cells," he says.
He called the facility's processing of detainees "extremely sloppy." Some guards have gotten sick in the last few weeks, he said, adding, "It's a ticking time bomb."
Many detainees are Central Americans fleeing violence. ICE also attributed the surge to the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy on unauthorized border crossings, which seeks to prosecute all first-time detainees instead of sending most back across the southern border.
The chickenpox discovery was disclosed in a letter by the warden to prison staff Monday, according to the publication LAist, which first reported the news.
The Bureau of Prisons said in its statement that the "affected housing unit was secured and medical exams are being conducted for all inmates housed in the unit. Additionally, a specialized cleaning of the housing unit and visiting room were also performed. Visitors are being advised of the situation at the front entrance to the facility."
The detainees were medically screened upon arrival, according to the statement.
An immigration official said ICE is monitoring the chickenpox situation but otherwise believes the Victorville facility to be safe.
A spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health said it has not been notified of the chickenpox diagnosis.
Chickenpox can create a blister-like rash and is especially harmful to those with relatively weak immune systems, including babies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most Americans are vaccinated against the disease.