A top Homeland Security official told a federal judge Tuesday that illegal immigrants caught and released at the border are “generally” tested for the coronavirus, as he sought to bolster the government’s lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The affidavit from David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border policy, came after Texas told the judge of an incident in La Joya, where police found a migrant family at a local fast-food restaurant who admitted they had COVID but were released into the community.
The family was staying at a local hotel run under the auspices of Catholic Charities, and police who responded to the hotel found several dozen people from the hotel “out and about” and “the majority without face masks.” Police issued a public health alert based on the situation.
Mr. Shahoulian, in his sworn affidavit, tried to minimize coronavirus risks from illegal immigrants, saying Homeland Security generally has the situation in hand.
“Those released directly from CBP facilities are generally provided testing either prior to or immediately after release from CBP custody,” he said.
Those who do test positive after release are connected with nongovernmental organizations, such as Catholic Charities, who are supposed to put them up in spaces where they can quarantine.
One exception is the Del Rio sector of Texas, where the federal government has its own contract to test and quarantine. But Mr. Shahoulian said that’s not possible border-wide “due to infrastructure and resource limitations.”
He didn’t say what those limits were.
The federal government’s ability to deal with the coronavirus among the migrant population is at the crux of the legal battle in Texas.
Mr. Abbott last week issued an executive order giving state police the power to block any non-law enforcement vehicle transporting migrants away from the border. He justified it as a way to stop the spread of the virus in Texas.
The Biden administration sued, saying that interfered with its ability to catch and release illegal immigrants, and asserting the primacy of federal immigration policy over the state’s policy.
But Homeland Security has struggled from the start of the new administration with how to handle high COVID-19 rates among illegal border crossers.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas initially claimed migrants were being tested and quarantined, even as stories poured in from the border disproving that claim.
The Del Rio contract was signed as a way to plug one of those gaps.
Migrants have generally had higher COVID-19 positivity rates than the U.S. population, with some border communities reporting infection rates as high as 25% in the migrants they tested earlier this year.