(CNN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott is blocking the Biden administration’s efforts to provide federal funding to test immigrants who are released from custody for COVID-19, a senior Homeland Security official told CNN. .
After relaxing state restrictions on COVID-19 this week, Abbott alleged, without evidence, that migrants entering Texas expose residents of the state to the coronavirus.
“The Biden administration has freed immigrants in South Texas who have been exposing Texans to COVID,” said Abbott, Republican, in a interview with CNBC on Thursday.
However, behind the scenes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has relayed to the governor’s office plans to get help for cities and counties and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, according to the official.
The Biden Administration’s Plans to Test Immigrants for Covid-19 in Texas
DHS has already put plans in place to use funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support work to test, isolate and quarantine if necessary immigrants released from Border Patrol custody, he said. the official to CNN. However, the state must approve the use of the grant money before it can be distributed to border communities. CNN had previously reported that plans were underway to use FEMA funds to help localities acquire evidence.
“Border security is a strictly federal responsibility. The federal government is the only one with the responsibility to test, screen and quarantine illegal immigrants who cross our border and who may have covid, “Abbott said in a statement. Instead of doing their job, the Biden administration suggested that they did not have sufficient resources and, notably, asked Texas to help them assist in their illegal immigration program. Texas refused.
Texas lifts restrictions due to covid-19
Abbott announced Tuesday that it would lift the mandatory mask-wearing mandate in Texas, even as health officials warn that the restrictions should not be relaxed. The governor also announced that all businesses will be able to operate 100% as of March 10.
When asked about the federal government’s efforts to test immigrants for COVID-19, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “Overall, our focus and policy is to work with local governments. , work with NGOs to guarantee (…) that these migrants are tested. And that can be done and that measures are taken for isolation, quarantine and medical attention if necessary.
In a statement sent to CNN on Friday, a DHS spokesperson said the department has been working with local mayors and Texas public health officials to provide covid-19 testing and its agreement with the partners requested federal funds to cover the expenses. related to testing, isolation and quarantine.
“We hope that Governor Abbott will reconsider his decision to reject DHS’s agreement with local Texas authorities that would allow migrant families that Governor Abbott says he wants done,” the spokesman said.
The situation at the border
The Biden administration still relies heavily on a Trump-era policy on the U.S.-Mexico border to turn away the vast majority of migrants encountered by the Border Patrol. However, Mexico stopped accepting that some families were returned to that country. That change, coupled with social distancing in US detention centers, has made space for migrants lacking. This, in turn, has forced Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials to release families in the United States.
The agency said in a statement that staff check for symptoms of Covid-19 and “consult with medical personnel on site, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the systems local health authorities, as appropriate. ‘
In McAllen, Texas, city officials they requested thousands of tests for COVID-19 were given to state officials in January after learning that CBP was not testing migrants. Catholic Charities administered the tests. If the immigrants test positive, the organization helps them quarantine at a local hotel.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management told CNN on Thursday that it received and responded to requests for COVID-19 testing from local officials in border communities. “Since the end of January, the state has provided 40,000 covid-19 tests to Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo and Del Rio to address the need for tests that the federal government is not addressing,” said Seth W. Christensen, chief of agency media and communications, in a statement.
Brownsville Mayor Juan “Trey” Mendez III said Thursday that 108 migrants out of a total of about 1,700 tested positive for COVID-19 in the city. He considered that this figure is not alarming, despite criticism from state officials. Mendez said Brownsville received about 10,000 tests from the Texas Division of Emergency Management. Of that total, the city has managed around 2,000.
“We have a positivity rate of just over 6%,” Mendez said, adding that that number is on par with what is being seen across the state.
In January, border security found nearly 7,500 families on the U.S.-Mexico border, based on the latest monthly data from the agency. That number is expected to rise, putting pressure on resources.
To expand capacity, the agency opened a semi-permanent facility in Donna, Texas, and is building another in Eagle Pass, Texas. In addition, four more such facilities are being considered, although the locations have not been defined, according to a senior DHS official. Additional Border Patrol agents are also being deployed to assist in the process.
CNN’s Ashley Killough and Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism