The rate of coronavirus cases has plummeted in the U.S., but on the border, illegal immigrants are pouring across with elevated rates of infections, and some of them are still being released directly into communities, a congressman revealed Wednesday.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, said officials in Laredo are seeing a 6% COVID-positive rate among the migrants being shipped to them from the border deeper in Texas. That’s double the rate of the broader U.S. population.
And Mr. Cuellar said the number of migrants has grown so large that Laredo’s nonprofits aren’t able to handle all the people the Border Patrol is shipping for testing and quarantine. Some migrants are being released directly to bus stations, where they mingle with the population as they head deeper into the country.
“When the shelters are full, because there are only two shelters in Laredo, Border Patrol is unloading them directly at bus stations or at the airport. As I mentioned, every time I fly from Laredo to D.C. to do my work I see folks there,” the lawmaker said.
“This is not my words, this is the health directors of Laredo. They’re worried about U.S. citizens being exposed to infectious disease threats,” Mr. Cuellar said.
He posed his challenge to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was testifying to the House Appropriations Committee.
Mr. Mayorkas didn’t respond directly to the COVID-19 allegations but insisted Homeland Security is prepared.
“We do have an architecture for the movement of individuals,” he said.
He said he would like to hear from the Laredo officials about their concerns.
More broadly, he said he’s aware of the economic headwinds border communities are facing because of the limits on cross-border traffic.
“The assurance that I can give the people whom you represent and throughout the border communities on our southern border and on the northern border is that we will not restrict travel one day more than the public health imperative requires,” he said.
The 6% positivity rate for migrants is lower than estimates from a couple of months ago, early in the Biden border surge.
One Texas community reported a 25% positivity rate, while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the illegal immigrants it was taking custody of were testing positive at between 5% and 10%.
In the early-going, thousands of people were released directly into communities without testing because Immigration and Customs Enforcement lacked the capacity to process, quarantine and hold the massive numbers.
Local governments and nonprofits stepped forward, with federal financing, to do testing.
But Mr. Cuellar’s information signals holes still exist in that system.