Biden draws ire as border apprehensions spike, migrants test positive for virus in South Texas

Politics

Testing for COVID continues in McAllen and Brownsville but concerns rise that asylum-seekers may be traveling with the virus

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BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continued to level criticism against the Biden administration on Thursday after it was learned that dozens of migrants released into South Texas by border authorities have tested positive for coronavirus and likely traveled north.

Meanwhile, a South Texas congressman said Thursday that in the past week, over 10,000 migrants have been apprehended in the region. And in the past two days, 2,500 asylum-seekers were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents from the Rio Grande Valley Sector, said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.

Many of those arrested are traveling with “tender age” children — those under 7 — and are being released in the McAllen and Brownsville areas, depending upon their individual cases. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are not testing them for the coronavirus unless they show medical symptoms, CBP officials have told Border Report.

A young migrant boy who was dropped off by CBP officials on March 4, 2021, at the downtown bus station in Brownsville, Texas, waits to catch a bus with his family. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“We are weeks, maybe even days, away from a crisis on the southern border. Inaction is simply not an option,” Cuellar said. “Our country is currently unprepared to handle a surge in migrants in the middle of the pandemic. Migrants are illegally crossing, potentially exposing border communities to the coronavirus and putting us at risk. Right now, none of the migrants are being tested for COVID-19 by Border Patrol.”

Border Report on Wednesday night reported that 108 asylum-seekers who were released by officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the past month tested positive for coronavirus, according to officials with the City of Brownsville.

The notion that some asylum-seekers who crossed illegally into the United States could be infected with COVID-19 and traveling north, continued to spark outcry from Abbott, who once again took to social media Thursday to voice criticisms against the Biden administration.

Abbott tweeted that “border security is strictly a federal responsibility” and he expressed outrage at the state having to use its resources to provide COVID-19 test kits.

But Abbott’s administration has already willingly provided at least 20,000 COVID-19 tests to the region, officials have told Border Report.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling in early February requested and received 10,000 coronavirus test kits, which are being used at the Humanitarian Respite Center in downtown McAllen, Darling told Border Report

And the City of Brownsville also asked for and received 10,000 test kits from the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which is under Abbott, Brownsville spokesman Felipe Romero told Border Report late Wednesday.

“We got 10,000 tests. We haven’t used them all,” Romero said.

Andrea Rudnik, a volunteer with the nonprofit Team Brownsville, told Border Report that when these migrant families started to be released in late January, there were two families who had tested positive for COVID-19, and the nonprofit paid to put them in a local hotel. However, they only stayed one night and did not quarantine for the full two weeks.

They were anxious to leave and meet their families, Rudnik said.

After that, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley offered to help be the liaison with all those who test positive and to offer them quarantine accommodations. Border Report has reached out to Catholic Charities to ask how many families with coronavirus have sheltered in hotels through the charity. This story will be updated if the information is received.

Medical workers provide rapid COVID-19 tests to migrants Thursday, March 4, 2021, at the bus station in Brownsville, Texas (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

On Thursday afternoon at the downtown Brownsville bus station, medical workers in scrubs and protective gear were on hand to offer the rapid COVID-19 tests to arriving migrants.

Romero said they received rapid COVID-19 tests and that everyone who arrives is being tested.

The bus station was much quieter on Thursday afternoon because other migrants — those who had been in the Migrant Protection Protocols or remain-in-Mexico program — are being released in a different part of the city, across the street from the bus station.

Over 700 people have been released since Feb. 25. All of them had lived in a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, across the Rio Grande. Some had been there since August 2019 when the Trump administration implemented the policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico during their immigration hearings.

All of the released asylum-seekers in the MPP program are tested for COVID-19 in Mexico under the supervision of the United Nations, and they must be negative in order to cross into Brownsville.

The nonprofit Team Brownsville provides supplies for migrants at the bus station in Brownsville, Texas, and offers assistance to those who test positive for coronavirus and need to quarantine. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Rudnik said on Thursday that there were only 70 people left remaining in a camp in Matamoros, Mexico. It is unclear if they will be brought across tomorrow.

Darling said he has been told that once the migrants in the Matamoros camp are all brought over, some migrants in the MPP program living in the city of Reynosa will also begin to cross.

Border Patrol figures released on Thursday show that apprehension rates are half of what they were in the summer of 2019, but they are rising dramatically each month since Joe Biden was elected president.

Cuellar urged that Biden and DHS recognize the situation before it escalates.

“I urge the Biden administration to listen and work with the communities on the southern border who are dealing with the surge of migrants,” he said.

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