Lawmakers hear testimony about money, security, disease along border

Lice, swine flu, scabies, tuberculosis seen among children crowding facilities

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HIDALGO COUNTY, Texas - Several state and local officials were called to Austin Tuesday to testify before the State Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. The hearing focused solely on the thousands of Central American immigrants crossing the Texas border.

Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey told lawmakers his staff has seen some cases of lice, swine flu, scabies and tuberculosis among the children crowding detention facilities along the border. Lakey also testified he has concerns about the amount of children that are being kept in cramped conditions.

Two weeks ago State Health Services officials visited detention facilities in Brownsville and McAllen and reported "living conditions pose a high potential for infectious disease outbreak among the children and staff."

When Local 2 contacted State Health Services, officials stated they had no data on the exact number of diseases seen among the children and directed us to the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Local 2 did not receive a response from officials at HHS as to how many diseases were being documented by federal officials at detention facilities.

The federal government tried to alleviate painful overcrowding at detention centers along the Texas border by sending hundreds of children and some adults to facilities in California on Tuesday. That plan met with some opposition as protesters tried to block federal buses ferrying immigrants to a facility in Murietta, California.

President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $2 billion to bring in more immigration judges to speed up deportation of children and for more detention facilities.

Head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, also warned state lawmakers the cartels are continuing to exploit the current influx of Central American children.

"Right now the center of gravity for drug and human smuggling is the Rio Grande Valley," said McCraw.

McCraw said the extra $1.3 million a week the state is spending is providing so-called saturation patrols on the border.

Committee Vice Chair and State Rep. Allen Fletcher won't say how long the spending will last, but said Texas will seek reimbursement from the federal government.

"If we can't recover those monies from the federal government, which we expect to do so, then we will take some monies from the general fund, our rainy day fund, and continue to fund the Department of Public Safety to secure our border," said Fletcher.

McAllen's mayor also testified at Tuesday's hearing that his city has spent $75,000 on immediate needs for many of the Central American immigrants flowing into the area and he anticipates that number will reach half-a-million by year's end. He too is hoping the city will be reimbursed.

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