DHS refutes Abbott’s claims that border agents aren’t receiving COVID-19 vaccine


State has provided 40,000 coronavirus tests for newly arrived migrants

DONNA, Texas (Border Report) — A day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited the South Texas border and levied several claims against what he perceives are inadequacies by the federal government in dealing with a surge of immigrants that he calls a “crisis,” federal officials are pushing back on some of his claims.

After touring the Rio Grande Valley and meeting with officials on the ground, Abbott told media on Tuesday that Border Patrol agents who “are on the frontlines” are not being vaccinated for COVID-19. He also repeated his claims that he believes it is the federal government’s responsibility to test all undocumented migrants for coronavirus, not the state’s.

“The Biden administration is not providing vaccinations for Border Patrol,” Abbott said at a news conference held Tuesday after he toured the area on helicopter and met with Border Patrol leaders.

“We have Border Patrol officers whose lives are on the line and the Biden administration will not step up and provide the vaccinations they need.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott holds a news conference in Mission, Texas, on March 9, 2021, after touring the South Texas border region by air and meeting with DPS, Border Patrol and National Guard officials. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

But officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pushed back on Wednesday saying that’s not true.

A DHS spokesperson said the agency in late January began Operation VOW, Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce, and so far over 64,000 DHS employees have already been vaccinated and many more are scheduled to receive shots.

 “There is no higher priority than the health and safety of our workforce. On January 25, DHS established Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce (Operation VOW) to accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to our personnel. Currently over 64,000 frontline DHS employees, including members of the U.S. Border Patrol, have received a vaccination.”

Over 64,000 frontline DHS employees, including members of the U.S. Border Patrol, have received a vaccination.”

DHS spokesperson

During a media call on Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Troy Miller said thousands of his workforce will be vaccinated.

“CBP leadership will continue to urge employees to get the vaccine when they are eligible,” Miller said. “The health and safety of our workforce remains a top priority.. We continue to provide them with the policies and initiatives to help keep them safe.”

Abbott, a Republican, leveled a serious threat to federal officials and said “The Biden administration should surge vaccines to Texas to all the men and women this week and ensure every Border Patrol officer this week is vaccinated.”

Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council union speaks to media on March 9, 2021, in Mission, Texas.

He was joined at the news conference on Tuesday by Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents Border Patrol agents.

But according to DHS officials, the agency is partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs to administer COVID-19 vaccines to employees in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prioritization guidelines. The agency said about 80 percent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel are included as what’s called Phase 1A or Phase 1B, under the CDC guidelines.

According to DHS:

  • Phase 1A: CBP employees identified as first responders with a direct nexus to healthcare. Employees in this group were notified of their eligibility to receive the vaccine in late December 2020.
  • Phase 1B: CBP employees identified as all other first responders and law enforcement. Employees in this group were notified of their eligibility to receive the vaccine in early January 2021.

Also, the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) in response to a question by Border Report sent an email clarifying that Abbott’s administration has helped to send COVID test kits to several border communities.

Abbott has repeatedly said it is the federal government’s responsibility to test all apprehended migrants, but Seth Christensen, chief of media and communications for TDEM acknowledged that 40,000 tests have been provided by the state and sent to the border towns of Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo and Del Rio “to meet their testing needs.”

A U.S. Border Patrol agent releases a family of migrants on Feb. 22, 2021, at the Humanitarian Respite Center in downtown McAllen, Texas. The Respite Center is testing all migrants for coronavirus and urging them not to get on buses or airplanes and to quarantine if they have coronavirus. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) has received and filled 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 meet their testing needs. As Gov. Abbott has made clear, testing, screening, and quarantining individuals crossing the international border is a federal responsibility. We know that the federal government has the capability to provide mass testing services that they are not currently utilizing. Last year the federal government surged personnel and supplies into border communities, such as Edinburg and El Paso, and operated sites capable of testing thousands of individuals each day. The Texas Division of Emergency Management will continue to partner with local officials to ensure we provide the resources necessary to keep Texans safe,” Christensen said.

Criticism has mounted after last week it was learned that at least 108 undocumented migrants tested positive for COVID-19 since late January in Brownsville at the bus station after being released by CBP officials. That led the CEO of Greyhound to send a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging his agency to test all migrants before releasing them or allowing them on public buses.

CBP officials have told Border Report they do not have the resources or manpower to test every migrant for coronavirus and those who show symptoms are referred for further health care, which could include tests. Most tests are being done by border cities and nonprofit agencies, such as the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.