Texas shelter housing migrants sees spike in COVID-19 infections

Central American asylum seekers arrive to a bus station after being released by U.S. Border Patrol agents on February 26, 2021, in Brownsville, Texas. U.S. immigration authorities are now releasing many asylum seekers after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border and are taken into custody. The immigrants are then free to travel to destinations throughout the U.S. while awaiting asylum hearings. |

Migrant families coming across the border into Texas amid a new illegal immigration wave are testing positive for COVID-19 at a much higher rate — up to 10 times higher in some quarters — than the positive test rate among the U.S. population.

The Washington Times reports that its survey of jurisdictions that are doing the testing has found that Brownsville, Texas, has reported a 12% positive rate for the novel coronavirus among incoming migrant families. And a homeless shelter in Harlingen has seen a 25% positive rate among the migrants it has helped.

The current positivity test rate for the U.S. public is at 3.5%, per Johns Hopkins University’s tracker.

The Washington Times quotes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as saying the families they've processed are between 5% and 10% positive for COVID-19, and they can only process 100 people a day among the 500 to 800 people who are coming across the border daily.

Pastor Bill Reagan, who runs the shelter in Harlingen, called Loaves and Fishes, said they're doing their best to help the massive influx of migrants. “It would be best if Customs and Border Protection decides to release certain individuals into the United States that they thoroughly quarantine ... for the 14 days and test them and only release those that test negative,” he said. “But I also understand they’re overwhelmed.”

The pastor said that among two groups that arrived at the shelter on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19, the first group had a COVID-19 positivity rate of 25%, while the second group was never tested before they were transported to the shelter. 

Reagan believes many are not being tested despite having been in close contact with those who have tested positive, yet they are being released.

“I think this is probably true for all the places people have been released from Border Patrol custody. All of them have been in close quarters for a long period of time. They all come together on the bus, they’ve all been detained together, and I would suppose on their trip from Central America they have been mixing with all kinds of people,” he told The Washington Times.

“Say they come to us on a particular day — they may just have been exposed that day or a day earlier and not test positive because of that,” he added.

The number of those who’ve been released without any testing is in thousands, Sheriff A.J. Louderback in Jackson County, Texas, told The Washington Times. 

More than 100,000 people, including nearly 9,500 unaccompanied minors, crossed the southern border illegally in February, according to The Epoch Times.

As President Joe Biden vowed during the 2020 campaign to reverse many of former President Trump’s policies, the Trump administration sought to ensure that migrant asylum-seekers would remain in Mexico while their cases were processed in the U.S. 

However, The Washington Post recently reported that the Biden administration was planning to convert immigrant family detention centers in South Texas into rapid-processing hubs to screen migrant adults and children and release them within 72 hours. 

The Biden administration has dismissed calls to describe the influx of migrants at the southern border as a "crisis," with White House Press Secretary Jen Paski rejecting the term "border crisis" outright. 

"I don’t think we need to sit here and put new labels on what we’ve already conveyed is challenging," Psaki said Tuesday at a press briefing.

Customs and Border Protection released figures this week showing that 100,441 people were apprehended in February while crossing the border illegally. 

During the White House press briefing on Wednesday, Biden’s Southern Border Coordinator Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, acknowledged that illegal border crossings have spiked under this administration.

"We've seen surges before," Jacobson said. "Surges tend to respond to hope, and there was significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of pent-up demand.” 

"So I don't know whether I would call that a coincidence, but I certainly think that the idea that a more humane policy would be in place may have driven people to make that decision," Jacobson added. "But perhaps, more importantly, it definitely drove smugglers to express disinformation — to spread disinformation about what was now possible."

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who recently criticized the Biden administration over its stand on illegal immigration, told CNN on Thursday, “There are three messages … One message from the White House — ’don’t come now, come later.’ Message number two from the family members and neighbors — ‘Hey, Pedro, ya pasamos. We’re able to come. Come over right now.’”

Cuellar continued, “Message number three is from the criminal organizations — ‘Hey, I can get you across. Pay me a little bit of money.’ And they are going to listen to message number two and three. Quite honestly, that is what’s happening until we have a solid message that we can send down to Central America.”

A large number of migrants are listening to smugglers’ or family members’ messages, he added.

Speaking to The Houston Chronicle recently, Cuellar also warned that “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.”

This week, John Modlin, interim chief in charge of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector in Arizona, also warned that illegal immigration was likely to overtake the past three years combined. “So right now, we’re about a hundred percent over where we were this time this last fiscal year,” independent journalist Sharyl Attkisson quoted him as saying, according to The Epoch Times.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the state’s Department of Public Safety announced last week that they will deploy the Texas National Guard to the Mexico border as part of “Operation Lone Star” to prevent Mexican cartels and traffickers from smuggling people and drugs into the state.

Describing the situation as a “border crisis,” the Republican governor made the announcement on Twitter. He said the operation involves the deployment of the Texas National Guard as well as air, ground, Marine and tactical border security assets “to deny Mexican Cartels & smugglers the ability to move drugs & people into Texas.”

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