Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is stalling efforts by the Biden administration to provide federal funds for Covid-19 tests for migrants released from custody, a senior Homeland Security official tells CNN.
After relaxing state Covid restrictions this week, Abbott alleged, without evidence, that migrants coming into Texas are exposing the state’s residents to the coronavirus.
“The Biden administration has been releasing immigrants in south Texas that have been exposing Texans to Covid,” Abbott, a Republican, said in a CNBC interview Thursday.
But behind the scenes, the Department of Homeland Security has relayed plans to the governor’s office to try and get assistance to cities and counties to mitigate Covid-19 spread, according to the official.
DHS has already set plans in motion to use Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to support community efforts to test, isolate and quarantine migrants released from Border Patrol custody, the official told CNN. But the grant money needs to be approved by the state before it can be distributed to border communities. CNN previously reported plans were underway to use FEMA funds to help localities acquire tests.
As of Wednesday, Texas had not yet provided a response to the administration since engaging with the Department of Homeland Security.
CNN reached out to the governor’s office and DHS for comment.
Abbott announced Tuesday he’s lifting the mask mandate in Texas, even as health officials warn not to ease safety restrictions, and said businesses of any type will be allowed to open 100% beginning March 10.
The Biden administration is still largely relying on a Trump-era policy at the US-Mexico border to turn away the vast majority of migrants encountered by the Border Patrol. But Mexico stopped accepting some families from being returned. That change, combined with social distancing in US detention centers, has created a lack of space for migrants, forcing Customs and Border Protection officials to release families into the US.
The agency said in a statement that personnel check for Covid-19 symptoms and “consult with onsite medical personnel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or local health systems as appropriate.”
In McAllen, Texas, city officials requested thousands of Covid-19 tests from state officials in January after learning migrants were not being tested by CBP.
The city received 6,000 tests, which are being administered by Catholic Charities. If migrants test positive, the organization will help them quarantine in a local hotel. As of early February, no one had presented with a positive test, according to Catholic Charities.
The proposal by DHS builds on that effort by providing federal funds to support communities.
In January, nearly 7,500 families were encountered by CBP at the US-Mexico border, according to the agency’s most recent monthly data. That number is expected to rise, putting a strain on resources.
To expand capacity, the agency opened a “soft-sided” structure in Donna, Texas, and is constructing another in Eagle Pass, Texas. At least four more “soft-sided” facilities are being considered, though locations haven’t been nailed down, according to a senior DHS official. Additional Border Patrol agents are also being deployed to help with processing.