McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Bus after bus Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security continued to drop off hundreds of migrant families in downtown McAllen.
Pregnant women in muddy jeans from torrential overnight rains, families with toddlers in diapers and nothing else on their bottoms, and shoeless children could be seen hopping onto the hot pavement in McAllen on Tuesday afternoon before lining up for COVID-19 testing.
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV), which runs the Humanitarian Respite Center, the largest migrant shelter in the Rio Grande Valley, since February has partnered with the city and county to test the migrants for coronavirus as soon as they’re dropped off. Anyone who is positive has been transported and isolated in a hotel paid by the nonprofit until they are symptom-free.
But despite the careful protocol the staff and army of volunteers have followed, the Delta variant of coronavirus has been detected here, and over 8% of the 800 migrants tested each day are found to have COVID-19, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report.
“That means a percentage of those turned loose out there will be carriers of COVID, which we obviously don’t want. If they’re going to get in a bus or in an airplane to go somewhere else I don’t have to tell you how dangerous that is,” Cortez said.
Cortez on Monday issued a local disaster declaration citing the high volume of migrants being legally released by border officials and the threat of coronavirus that they might be bringing. His order is good for seven days and then he told Border Report he hopes that Hidalgo County Commissioners will vote to extend it.
McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos on Monday afternoon also issued a disaster declaration for his border city of 150,000 — the biggest in Hidalgo County — which is in the crosshairs of the immigration surge and where DHS officials bring the majority of migrant families who are legally released to travel in the interior of the country.
“A couple weeks ago things were still fine,” Villalobos said Tuesday during a YouTube video produced by the city. “It was working wonderfully. And then the problem is it got a little worse with the fact of COVID positivity rates going up. So now we have Catholic Charities trying to quarantine people and transport them and the governor’s orders saying, ‘look you’re tying our hands.'”
Both leaders said they took this route in the hopes of being able to access federal or state reimbursement funds relating to the migrants. And to catch more attention in Washington, where they say immigration laws must be changed in order for the stream of buses to stop.
McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez told Border Report on Tuesday that he is not surprised that the daily flow of migrants through downtown was continuing.
“It will continue until Biden halts entry into the country. The declaration was to get help from state and the feds,” he said.
Title 42 extended
Late Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended and revised Title 42, a public health order implemented during the Trump administration that is allowing U.S. Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers to immediately expel migrants due to the fear of coronavirus spreading in the United States.
In announcing the extension, DHS said in a statement that it will “expel the majority of single adults, and, to the extent possible, families encountered at the Southwest border. … The Biden-Harris Administration continues to work to build a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system, including by expanding lawful pathways to the United States and discouraging irregular migration.”
The order will be reassessed every 60 days, “to ensure that the Order remains necessary to protect the public health,” the CDC said.
Migrant advocacy groups have been critical of Title 42 and of President Joe Biden for continuing this regulation.
The ACLU along with the Texas Civil Rights Project, RAICES, and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies has sued the Biden administration to stop Title 42.
“We gave the Biden administration more than enough time to fix any problems left behind by the Trump administration, but it has left us no choice but to return to court. Families’ lives are at stake,” Lee Gelernt, an ACLU lawyer and the lead attorney on the case, said in a statement.
“People have a legal right to seek safety in America and our government has the resources to safely process them into the country to have their cases heard,” Karla Marisol Vargas, senior attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement. “Initial promises on the part of the Biden administration to phase out Title 42 for only family units will not do enough. It is time to double down on the push to end Title 42 and force the government to follow the law.”
However, with the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which is across the Rio Grande from South Texas, still refusing to take back tender-age children — those under the age of 6 — U.S. border officials have had no choice but to admit the migrant families, as well as vulnerable populations, like pregnant women. These migrants are processed and given a Notice to Appear in immigration court and then most are released to CCRGV or other non-governmental organizations in Brownsville to be on their way.
Cortez says the Rio Grande Valley is “overcapacity” and cannot handle more migrants released into the region.
Rodriguez told Border Report that there are 18 outbound buses with a total of 900 seats that leave from McAllen, but that isn’t enough to accommodate all of the migrants. He said the city has been working with Greyhound and other bus lines to increase at least two more outbound buses per week.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of CCRGV, told Border Report that about 800 migrants are brought to the Humanitarian Respite Center every day. On July 26, however, there were 1,100 migrants taken to the center and it reached capacity and had to shut its doors to new arrivals. Since then, several organizations have offered to take the overflow of migrants, but the center struggles every day to have enough supplies and donations to meet the growing demand.
This past weekend the air conditioning went out at the facility and temperatures were in the triple digits. The AC was working slightly on Tuesday but some local residents had rallied to take waters and fans to help the migrants in the center during the extremely hot days.
A bank of porta-potties was seen being brought in late Tuesday, along with four DHS buses that arrived with migrants.
The First Lady of Honduras, Ana Garcia, visited the Respite Center on Tuesday afternoon as the national and international spotlights continue to focus on this small intersection in this border town in deep South Texas.
Said Cortez: “We need help immediately from the federal people, even from the state. These immigrants need to be served and we’ve run out of space.”