- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2021

Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday that the current border surge is “unprecedented,” with July setting a new high — and he acknowledged his department is “stretched” in its capacity to test and quarantine those who come across with COVID-19.

It was a stark admission for Mr. Mayorkas, who has repeatedly rejected calling the unprecedented border surge a “crisis,” but who said during a visit to the border in Texas that they are fighting to deal with a rising rate of COVID-positive migrants.

“Our capacity to test, isolate and quarantine the vulnerable population that makes a legal claim for asylum is stretched,” he said. “The extent of the challenge should not be understated, but nor should our ability to meet it.”

The mayor in McAllen, a Texas community at the heart of the surge, reported the positivity rate among migrants it is seeing is above 15% at this point.

There are so many migrants being caught and released in deep southern Texas that some are being bussed out to other communities, including Laredo.

Mayor Pete Saenz said his community can’t handle that kind of pressure during the pandemic. He said the city doesn’t have the capacity to test and quarantine, and the non-governmental organizations in the region can handle some, but not the 200 a day. He said the residents are already so slammed by the virus that they can’t afford to compete with migrants for hospital beds.

“It’s gotten to the point now that any other population that comes into our community is truly, truly fighting for a bed in the city of Laredo,” he said. “Our people should have a preferential right.”

Mr. Mayorkas didn’t deny those statements, but insisted they “built an architecture” he thought could handle the situation.

Mr. Mayorkas was in town to visit with the Border Patrol, immigrant-rights activists, elected mayors and officials at the non-governmental organizations who are the backbone of the catch-and-release COVID-19 efforts.

He revealed the grim border statistics for July, in which border authorities saw 212,672 unauthorized crossings. Last July that figure was just 40,929.

Of those new numbers, 52% were single adults and the rest were families or unaccompanied juveniles. That marks a significant rise in those trickier categories of migrant, who under current U.S. policy are often treated more leniently and get more chance to disappear into the country’s interior.

Less than half of the migrants encountered were expelled under the pandemic health border shutdown order, meaning tens of thousands were processed and released into the country’s interior.

Most troubling is the rise in migrants from outside Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. More than 59,000 of July’s migrants came from elsewhere. Last year during the same month the total was just 2,526 people.

Mr. Mayorkas said the numbers marked an “unprecedented number of migrants” That contrasts with President Biden’s assertion that surges happen “every year.”

Administration officials had also said at the beginning of the surge in January that the numbers were seasonal, suggesting they would decline as the weather heated up and discouraged people. That’s been true for past migration patterns.

But this year the numbers have increased every month under Mr. Biden.

“They’re not stopping, in fact, they’re increasing right now,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, told reporters.

He said the Rio Grande Valley sector saw 20,000 migrants three weeks ago, 21,000 two weeks ago, and 22,000 migrants last week.

The congressman had just met with Mr. Mayorkas, where he urged a renewed focus on blocking migrants. He said Mexico, in particular, could be pressured to do more to stop people before they reach the U.S. border.

Mr. Mayorkas just returned from a trip to Mexico and said he’s working on those ideas. He also touted a renewed program to fly illegal immigrants caught at the border deep into Mexico, making it less likely they turn around and try again. He was unable to say how many such flights have taken place so far.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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