Brownsville to test newly released migrants for coronavirus; Dozens have boarded buses untested

Immigration

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — The City of Brownsville in South Texas has received 10,000 COVID-19 test kits from the State of Texas and will begin using them Saturday at the city’s bus station on migrant families who are being released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, city officials told Border Report on Friday.

This follows a receipt of a surge of test kits that the state sent last week to the nearby border city of McAllen, where over 400 migrant families have been released since Jan. 28.

Dozens of families, upwards of 50 migrants per day, are being legally paroled by CBP officials in Brownsville and there are health concerns that for the past week, migrants have boarded buses in Brownsville headed for cities elsewhere in the United States without being tested for the deadly coronavirus.

The Brownsville, Texas, bus station is called La Plaza and located just blocks from the Gateway International Bridge. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“The COB (City of Brownsville) received 10k kits from the state and will start rapid testing migrants tomorrow (Saturday),” Brownsville spokesman Felipe Romero wrote to Border Report on Friday.

The tests will be administered at the city’s downtown bus station, called La Plaza, Romero said.

Brownsville requested the test kits after the mayor of McAllen asked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and received 10,000 COVID-19 test kits from the state. The kits sent to McAllen are being administered to migrants at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, told Border Report.

Andrea Rudnik, a volunteer with the nonoprofit group Team Brownsville, told Border Report that city officials in Brownsville were initially testing released migrants, but ran out of COVID-19 tests last Friday and for the past week migrants have been boarding buses unchecked.

“The city was testing for COVID for the first couple of days, then didn’t have funds to test. It costs $100 per test. So now they’re not testing anymore,” Rudnik said earlier this week.

The iconic Brownsville, Texas, bus station building is located downtown just blocks north of the border with Matamoros, Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

But Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the RGV, told Border Report that during this interim period many migrants released in the Brownsville could have accessed tests at the Ozanam Center downtown, but it required them scheduling with that nonprofit homeless shelter.

On Friday morning, Romero told Border Report that now “Ozanam is at capacity.”

When asked whether migrants had boarded buses during the past week untested, Romero replied: “Migrants are being provided with assistance in reaching out to their families to get them to their destination as fast as possible following all CDC guidelines.”

A sign for tickets at the bus station in downtown Brownsville, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Border Report has learned that sometime before Jan. 28, CBP officials began releasing some migrants who illegally entered South Texas near the cities of McAllen and Brownsville if they met certain conditions. This included migrants traveling with children or with special circumstances, such as pregnant women. Shortly after taking office last month, President Joe Biden halted the “Remain in Mexico” policy — which was implemented by the Trump administration and forced all asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico during their U.S. immigration proceedings. DHS officials last week began paroling some migrants into the interior and they began showing up at the bus stations in McAllen and Brownsville.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling told Border Report they were concerned for the health of area residents and did all they could to quickly access test kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The releases of migrant families appear to not be happening elsewhere on the border in places like San Diego or El Paso where current cross-border travel restrictions appear to remain in place under the Title 42 rule to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Rudnik says that four migrant families who tested positive for COVID-19 were put in local hotels, paid for by Team Brownsville and Catholic Charities in order to quarantine them from the public.

Andrea Rudnik is a volunteer with Team Brownsville, which helps migrants in Matamoros, Mexico. She is seen on Jan. 28, 2020, near the Gateway International Bridge. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

She says Team Brownsville has been allowed to stock the city’s bus station with backpacks and clothes and food supplies to give the traveling migrants, but volunteers are not allowed close access to them and city officials are handing out the goods.

“CBP is not testing them so they’re not coming with that documentation; so either they go out that day on the bus across the country or the Emergency Management Department is calling and allowing them to travel,” she said.

Border Report has asked Brownsville officials to explain the protocol for COVID-19 testing of the migrants and what happened in the interim week when the city ran out of tests. This story will be updated if additional information is received.

CBP officials have told Border Report that paroled migrants are not being tested for COVID-19 unless they show overt symptoms.

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

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