Federal migrant processing facilities ‘haphazardly built’ and spreading COVID, Texas governor says

Border Report

McAllen mayor urges COVID testing at Rio Grande; 50 migrants apprehended Wednesday had virus

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is flanked by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, left, and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling as he speaks to media on Thursday, March 25, 2021, at a fire station in McAllen, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — In his second trip to the Rio Grande Valley in two weeks, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott again blamed the Biden administration for the surge in immigrants crossing into South Texas from Mexico and he said temporary federal facilities housing children were “haphazardly built” and are spreading coronavirus.

Speaking to media on Thursday afternoon at a firehouse in the border town of McAllen, Abbott said that facilities where thousands of unaccompanied migrant minors are being detained by federal officials, such as in Carrizo Springs, Texas, are becoming super-spreaders for COVID-19.

“We have ongoing and increased frustration with the Biden administration because they’re providing little advanced notice about the new migrant centers they are setting up. And these new migrant centers are built in a haphazard way, to say the least. And they’re built in ways that we’re finding after the fact that a significant percentage of the population in the migrant centers have COVID,” Abbott, a Republican, said in response to a question from Border Report.

These new migrant centers are built in a haphazard way, to say the least. And they’re built in ways that we’re finding after the fact that a significant percentage of the population in the migrant centers have COVID.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Abbott cited facilities in Carrizo Springs and Midland, Texas, “where more than 10% of the population in the centers have COVID-19.”

The surge is so overwhelming, local resources that thousands of migrant youth apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley are being sent to other facilities including San Diego, Dallas and San Antonio.

Migrants are seen inside a temporary processing facility tent built in February in Donna, Texas. (Courtesy Photo)

Joined Thursday by Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, Abbott said “we’re working with the federal government to make sure that they step up to address those challenges.”

Abbott came to the Rio Grande Valley to tout a coronavirus vaccination program for seniors, Save Our Seniors, and announced that any senior over age 80 in Texas “can go to the front of the line” and doesn’t have to wait for a shot.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks with Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez on Thursday, March 25, 2021, in McAllen. From left is Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, Melendez, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was on-hand to greet and meet with Abbott. Afterward, Darling told Border Report that the greatest challenge his city of 150,000 is facing is that officials with the Department of Homeland Security are not testing migrants for coronavirus when they apprehend them close to the Rio Grande.

The City of McAllen has joined with the nonprofit Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to test all newly-arrived migrants who are dropped off by U.S. Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in a tent facility erected near the downtown McAllen bus station. Anyone with COVID is sent to a hotel to quarantine and must test negative before they are released.

Darling said on Wednesday they received 600 migrants at the tent facility and 50 tested positive for coronavirus. Because they quarantine the entire family, he says that meant that at least 100 people, and likely more, were sent to special area hotels to wait out the virus.

Migrants are tested for COVID-19 at this tent facility built by the City of McAllen and run by Catholic Charities of the RGV, which is located near the downtown bus station in McAllen, Texas. Concerns are migrants are getting contaminated riding in buses to the tent together with coronavirus-positive people. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Catholic Charities is paying for the hotels with donated funds and the City of McAllen has been told by DHS it “will be reimbursed” for expenses incurred, Darling said.

“The crisis is on the river,” Darling said. “If they would test them there and take them directly to the quarantine hotels that would solve a lot of problems instead of putting them on a bus and risk contaminating everyone.”

“It’s not Border Patrol’s fault,” he stressed, adding that border agents are overwhelmed.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling speaks with Border Report after meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott on March 25, 2021. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

He said he was meeting with federal officials this afternoon to discuss a proposal his city has made to urge DHS to test migrants for the coronavirus in the field as soon as they apprehend them. He said another proposal is for DHS to take over the tent testing, but he said that still wouldn’t eliminate the problem they have with cross-contamination of those brought on buses.

“We want to test at the river so you’re not putting everyone on a bus together and spreading that,” Darling said

Abbott last traveled to the Rio Grande Valley on March 9 when he announced Operation Lone Star, which would dispatch state troopers to South Texas to assist Border Patrol agents.

On Thursday, Abbott said a total of 1,000 troopers have been put into the program, but he said their forces were “spread thin” as the surge extends hundreds of miles west to the Texas border cities of Eagle Pass and Laredo “that are dealing with a volume of migrants they say are unlike anything they’ve seen in the past.”

“As a result, our forces are not as full, are thin in certain regions because of the large-scale operations required,” Abbott said.

National Guard Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris joined Abbott during the 20-minute news conference and said they have 500 guardsmen on the ground in South Texas and are amping up to add 500 more.

Abbott’s visit came a day before a Republican-led delegation of lawmakers are scheduled to come to the Rio Grande Valley and meet with local officials. Darling said he has been invited to the discussion.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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