Texas lawmaker concerned about COVID-19 risk at the border

Washington-DC

WASHINGTON (Nexstar) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported an increase in migrants coming to the Southwest border in January.

But Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) says many of the increasing number of migrants arriving at the border near McAllen, Texas — who are being released into the United States by U.S. Border Patrol because they are with very young children — are not being tested for COVID-19, and he’s concerned.

“I got border mayors saying, ‘woah hold it, hold it. Our hospitals are full, we are not getting enough vaccines right now, so you’re releasing undocumented people at our bus stations and our centers without checking them,'” Cuellar said.

Cuellar says the border communities and local nonprofits are being forced to take on the responsibility. They want to help, but not all of them have gotten vaccines, and they are worried about the health of their volunteers.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was asked during a White House press briefing on Monday if DHS plans to provide tests to border cities.

“So, if I can level set on that: The extraordinary weather that Texas suffered, and to which the president responded with such urgency, created an unexpected stress on our system,” said Mayorkas.

Mayorkas says many of the migrants are tested once they are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. ICE has the capability to test them — to isolate and quarantine them, as the results so dictate.

But it is the U.S. Border Patrol agents, not ICE, who are releasing the migrants on what is called a Notice to Appear — the promise that they will appear at upcoming immigration hearings. A local CBP spokesperson says the agency is only sending those with coronavirus symptoms for testing.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) says immigration officials have not been clear about their COVID-19 testing plans.

“We have heard nothing but crickets,” Cornyn said.

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