McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos told Border Report that lifting Title 42 could jeopardize not only the safety but the health of his South Texas city.

“My position would be, ‘Do not lift Title 42 until I know that our community is 100% safe,'” Villalobos said Monday at the Rio Grande Valley Business Summit, where he introduced Gov. Greg Abbott for a late afternoon panel.

“If they do lift Title 42 look at what’s going on in different areas of the country,”he said. “COVID still exists. A lot of people think just because we’re doing well it can stay that way but we are concerned about it.”

Hidalgo County officials told Border Report on Monday that there were 18 reported cases of coronavirus, including 12 hospitalizations in the border county, which includes the city of McAllen. Since the pandemic began, the county has had over 200,300 cases of COVID-19 and 3,910 deaths.

A line of migrants released by the Department of Homeland Security wait for COVID-19 tests in downtown McAllen, Texas, on Aug. 3, 2021. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Villalobos also said he is concerned about his city’s safety should thousands of migrants try to come across the border if Title 42 ends on May 23, which the Biden administration wants.

Title 42 is a public health order enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the Trump administration in March 2020, that prevents asylum seekers from crossing the borders from Mexico and Canada to stop the spread of coronavirus. Those who try to cross are immediately expelled back to Mexico or sometimes to their home countries.

Border Patrol agents arrest a group of single adult migrants on June 24, 2021, in Hidalgo, Texas. Under Title 42, most adult migrants apprehended crossing illegally into the United States are expelled back immediately to Mexico. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

However, several states, including Texas, have sued to prevent Title 42 from being lifted. And the Department of Homeland Security has estimated that if Title 42 ends there could be 18,000 asylum seekers per day trying to cross the Southwest border.

Villalobos says the city of McAllen will not weigh in on the immigration debate, and whether or not migrants should be granted asylum, but he worries the city could be overrun with migrants, as happened last summer when thousands of mostly migrant families were legally released by DHS officials into downtown McAllen.

“We take no position as to whether they are legal or illegal, whether they are entitled to immigration or asylum, or not. So our position is public safety and that’s what we do and we’ll keep on doing it as much as we can,” Villalobos said.

“My concern is if they lift (Title) 42 the numbers will be incredible. I don’t know whether Catholic Charities (of the Rio Grande Valley), with the assistance of McAllen or anybody else, is going to be able to take care of business,” he said of the nonprofit organization that runs the Humanitarian Respite Center in downtown McAllen, the largest migrant center in South Texas.

Migrants are brought Aug. 3, 2021, by bus to downtown McAllen, Texas, and legally released by the Department of Homeland Security. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Several soft-sided one-stop processing centers are to be built along the Southwest border. And Villalobos said if one is built in the McAllen area, he hopes it will be near the Anzalduas International Bridge, which leads to Reynosa, Mexico.

“We’re the 6th safest city in the country and we want to keep it that way. We need to make sure that whatever happens, happens as far away from the main population of course still taking no position whether it’s legal, illegal, whether they are entitled to asylum or not.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from South Texas who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, has told Border Report that $200 million has been requested to build what they are commonly calling “one-stop” border processing centers.

“We’re trying to put everybody together: ICE, ORR, all the different agencies together,” Cuellar said in March. “It’s a new concept because instead of doing things separately we want to put everybody together and I think by providing services to everybody including legal services, health services, everything together, all the agencies I think that will be more efficient and better for the migrants and quite honestly for the federal government.”

Cuellar, at the time, speculated there would be a facility built in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as Del Rio, Texas, a city of 45,000 that saw an influx of 15,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, cross from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, last September.

Villalobos says up and down the Texas border, communities are fearful of the type of migrant influx that could occur if Title 42 ends.

“Of course, we are concerned here. In the Rio Grande Valley area, Laredo, El Paso, all the border areas are very concerned but we also understand that Title 42 was more of a health concern than an immigration concern,” he said.

A federal judge in Louisiana is expected to rule any day now on the lawsuits on whether to continue Title 42.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com