A Texas county declared a state of disaster Monday over illegal immigrants and COVID-19 exposure and adopted a policy barring them from being transported into or through the jurisdiction until they’ve gotten a new test showing they’re free of the coronavirus.
Kinney County, which includes a sliver of the Mexican border along the Rio Grande, but serves as a key transit route for migrants being taken to San Antonio, said it has determined unvaccinated and untested illegal immigrants are a real threat to public health. The county said it doesn’t have the facilities to handle a major outbreak.
Under the policy, law enforcement officers are ordered to stop and inspect vehicles believed to be carrying illegal immigrants. Any occupant who cannot show a negative COVID-19 test form within the last 72 hours will be ushered back outside the county’s borders.
The policy is a challenge to the Biden administration, which is relying on buses and vans hired by nonprofits and other private organizations to ferry illegal immigrants from the border deeper into Texas and the rest of the country. The policy still allows federal, state and local authorities to transport people in their custody, so regular law enforcement can continue, but the nonprofits’ work would be shut down.
Kris Kobach, a lawyer who is representing Kinney County in a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s deportation limits and consulted on the new COVID-19 disaster declaration, said states and counties are now on the front lines in public health and have to act.
“Kinney County has stepped forward to ensure that its citizens aren’t endangered by large numbers of illegal aliens with COVID-19 being shipped into the county,” said Mr. Kobach, who is general counsel at the Alliance for Free Citizens.
The county’s policy is similar to one Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tried to impose by executive order over the summer, blocking private transport of border jumpers. A federal judge has enjoined that policy, saying Mr. Abbott was encroaching on federal powers to handle immigration.
But Mr. Kobach said Kinney County’s policy is more narrowly drafted, applying specifically to migrants without a negative COVID-19 test.
He said that’s a tailored solution to a problem the Biden administration has spawned by its own border management.
“President Biden acts as if he is concerned about the COVID pandemic, and he requires U.S. citizens to show a negative COVID test in order to return to their own country from abroad. Yet he is ordering the Border Patrol to release thousands of illegal aliens who are infected with COVID into the country, with no test required,” Mr. Kobach said. “The hypocrisy is staggering.”
The border surge that began with Mr. Biden’s inauguration has been unprecedented, and it comes at a time when COVID-19 is ravaging many of the sending countries.
Tens of thousands of migrants are being caught and released at the border each month, and they are making their way deeper into the U.S. through roads, rails or airplanes.
The Biden administration says its policy is to make sure border jumpers are tested for COVID-19 before they are released, relying in part on local nongovernmental organizations and contractors. Local officials say they don’t believe that is always happening.
Federal Homeland Security Department officials have said those who do test positive are supposed to be held in quarantine until they are cleared.
Kinney County has been under a COVID-19 border emergency declaration since April. This week’s policy renews that declaration and adds teeth with the transport ban.
The policy relies on Homeland Security to confirm the identities of illegal immigrants.