South Texas border leaders to ask DHS secretary for ‘moratorium’ on migrant releases

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A line of migrants are seen Aug. 3, 2021, in downtown McAllen, Texas, waiting to be tested for coronavirus. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas plans to visit the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday and local leaders say they will ask him for a halt to new releases of migrant families due to a high rate of COVID-19 among the migrants. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A coalition of border leaders from South Texas have agreed to ask President Joe Biden’s top border official for a total “moratorium on migrant releases” when he visits the region Thursday, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told Border Report.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is scheduled to stop in Brownsville and is holding a roundtable discussion with border leaders in McAllen, several invited guests have told Border Report.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is seen on May 7, 2021 in Donna, Texas, during his last visit to the Rio Grande Valley. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Mayorkas’ visit comes as growing concern mounts by border officials as coronavirus cases among migrants released by federal officials increase and capacity at local hospitals diminishes. The City of Laredo is even hiring private buses to ship untested migrants to Austin and Houston because Saenz said they don’t have hospital space to care for the sick.

The roundtable is closed to media, but Saenz said border leaders who are members of the Texas Border Coalition, of which he is a member, held an online conference call on Wednesday to prepare for Mayorkas’ visit. Saenz said they plan to ask Mayorkas for three things:

  • To stop releasing migrant families due to the surge in coronavirus cases on the border.
  • More resources for Border Patrol and law enforcement.
  • A reopening of land ports to non-essential tourists with proper documentation and visas to stimulate trade and commerce in the region.

Saenz said coronavirus rates among migrant families who are being released by DHS officials in the Rio Grande Valley jumped to 16% on Wednesday. That’s a doubling of cases since Aug. 2, according to data provided to Border Report by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez.

“We’re asking for a moratorium. To send resources to deal with this mess and to sort it out and to better manage them,” Saenz said.

A DHS official watches as migrants depart a federal bus and are dropped off in downtown McAllen, Texas, on Aug. 3, 2021. The City of McAllen and local entities provide COVID-19 tests to all newly released migrants, but some South Texas cities, like Laredo, are not testing the migrants and instead bussing them to other Texas cities. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Saenz says he has been invited and plans to attend the McAllen meeting.

He said migrants bussed to Laredo by DHS officials from the Rio Grande Valley were testing at a rate of 35% to 40% positive for coronavirus.

Migrant families are being released into South Texas communities because the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas at the start of this year told the Biden administration that it would no longer accept back “tender age” children — those 6 and under — because it lacks the infrastructure to properly and safely house them. Since then, hundreds of thousands of migrants have flowed into the region, driven by human traffickers and cartels who recognize these vulnerable populations will not be turned back, and they see it as a way to make money.

A security guard checks paperwork to ensure migrants are free of COVID-19 prior to allowing them entry into the Humanitarian Respite Center on Aug. 3, 2021, in downtown McAllen, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photo)

Local communities are so overwhelmed that the largest migrant shelter in the region run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, the Humanitarian Respite Center, had to temporarily close its doors to new arrivals recently and now all migrants are being tested in a park in Mission, Texas, and those with coronavirus are being asked to stay at the park.

Saenz said he is uncertain who will be the actual voice to deliver the message to Mayorkas — perhaps Cortez or Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr., who chairs the Texas Border Coalition.

Mayorkas last visited the RGV on May 7 and viewed a crowded processing facility for unaccompanied migrant children whose numbers were at the time surging. But the most pressing concerns for local leaders right now are the increase in COVID-19 cases on the border and rising positivity rates among migrants who are released by DHS officials and are to legally allowed to travel within the United States.

“It doesn’t make sense. It’s unreasonable to even invite more when we know there’s a high potential that a small percentage of this population will end up in our hospitals and we can’t satisfy the needs of our residents,” Saenz said.

Mayorkas has scheduled a 12:45 p.m. news conference in Brownsville after he meets with local officials. Border Report plans to attend the news conference and will provide an update.

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