MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — Amid rising criticism over thousands of migrants being released by federal officials into South Texas, including hundreds testing positive for COVID-19, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made a visit to the border region Tuesday to assess the situation for himself and held firm that it is the federal government, not the state’s responsibility, to test them.
Abbott took an aerial tour of the region and met with officials from U.S. Border Patrol, Texas Department of Public Safety, and Texas National Guard. He then held a noon news conference near the banks of the Rio Grande at Anzalduas Park south of the town of Mission, across from the northwest suburbs of the Mexican town of Reynosa.
During the 27-minute discussion with media, Abbott stressed the need to vaccinate Border Patrol agents, for the federal government to surge resources to the region to stem the flow, and he promised that the State of Texas would “step up” and provide needed resources, including 500 DPS troopers to the region.
Much of the blame he cast on the situation he laid at the foot of President Joe Biden’s administration, which he said has implemented stark immigration reforms since taking over the White House.
“This crisis is a result of President Biden’s open-border policies, which invites illegal immigrants and creates a humanitarian crisis that will grow increasingly worse by the day,” Abbott said in a grassy field lined with dozens of DPS troopers blocking the view of the Rio Grande. “I need the Biden administration to step up and provide the safety and security that Texas and Americans deserve.”
His visit came just three days after Biden’s new Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, made a secret visit to the region. A visit that Abbott criticized because it did not involve state and local leaders.
“It is clear they are completely unprepared for what is going on now and they will be completely unprepared for what is coming in the next few months,” Abbott said.
Before he left Austin, Abbott tweeted Tuesday that he was coming to South Texas to “be there with Texas solutions” to fix the ongoing situation, which he called a “humanitarian crisis.”
But what he appeared to do was to place all responsibility onto one specific federal border agency — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which is not responsible for all undocumented migrants apprehended in the United States or Texas.
After his tour of the region, Abbott repeatedly said it is ICE’s responsibility to test for coronavirus all undocumented migrants.
ICE is “the entity in charge of retaining and quarantining,” Abbott said. “The Biden administration refuses to talk about ICE.”
But an ICE official reiterated to Border Report on Tuesday that they are but one federal agency, and they do not handle every migrant who comes across the border. Those who do enter ICE facilities are tested.
“All migrants, single adults and family units, are tested for COVID-19 during intake at all U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. ICE is committed to ensuring that all those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement,” the ICE spokespersons said Tuesday afternoon.
Abbott said he also toured, by helicopter, an ICE facility today. But he did not enter the facility.
Abbott also highlighted a rise in apprehension rates in the Border Patrol’s RGV Sector, which have spiked dramatically since the presidential election. Data released last week show over 78,300 undocumented migrants were arrested by Border Patrol agents on the Southwest border in January, a 6% increase from December, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
That is still fewer than half of the migrants apprehended in May 2019 during the height of the border surge during the Trump administration, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security recently told Border Report.
However, what’s different this time is that DHS officials beginning in late January began releasing hundreds of undocumented migrants into the region despite Title 42 border travel restrictions still in place to thwart the spread of coronavirus from country to country.
Abbott said since Jan. 1, so far in 2021, there have been 108,000 apprehensions by Border Patrol in the RGV Sector, compared to a total of 90,000 arrests made in all of 2020.
Abbott said to assist Border Patrol agents and to thwart drug cartels, he is surging 500 troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the region. In addition, the National Guard also is sending 500 troops to the area.
The surge in migrants in the region, in part is due to a change in Mexican laws, and officials in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas who refuse to accept young “tender age” children, ages 7 and under. On Jan. 6, Mexico implemented a new law that no longer allows young migrant children to be held in detention facilities.
But Tamaulipas, which borders South Texas, has been ill-equipped to handle this new law and the agencies responsible for the care of children and families with young children did not have the facilities to keep them, Border Report has learned. That triggered Mexican officials to announce that they would not accept back families with young children expelled from the United States.
The migrants are typically being kept less than two days by CBP officials and then released. However, they are not being tested for coronavirus unless they show overt symptoms, DHS officials have said.
Local nonprofits began to notice a surge in released migrants and began testing them for COVID-19 and asking state and federal officials for resources to help. And last week the CEO of Greyhound sent a letter to Secretary Mayorkas demanding that federal officials test all migrants.
On Monday, Border Report also learned that the overflow of migrants from South Texas will be flown and transported to other border cities, such as El Paso. And that drew additional ire and criticism from border leaders and communities across the Southwest.
Abbott has been accused of refusing to accept resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which wants to send resources to the State of Texas to administer COVID-19 tests to the migrants. When asked on Tuesday, he pivoted and referred to ICE and said it is that agency’s duty to do the testing, not the state’s.
“Immigration is a federal government responsibility. The federal government has the responsibility to fund the testing of anyone, and in this case it is ICE,” Abbott said.
He commented that during his aerial tour he saw a raft with 21 migrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande. He said there were children on the raft.
Abbott said many migrants who come across have criminal records. He said that in 2021, so far, 800 criminal migrants who have been charged with “violent crimes” have been apprehended on the Southwest border. That includes 78 sex offenders and 62 gang members, including members of MS-13.
Abbott praised his administration’s launching of Operation Lone Star, which is surging troopers to the region, to help stop the drug cartels from trafficking of humans and illegal substances.
He said the state will “step up and do it’s part” by helping Border Patrol agents by providing this necessary law enforcement layer to the region.
“They are overwhelming the Border Patrol agents and officials,” Abbott said. “One thing is clear: We need more ICE detention facilities in this area immediately.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.