by Anna Giaritelli, Homeland Security Reporter | | August 04, 2021 04:55 PM
MCALLEN, Texas — A border city in south Texas declared a local disaster this week as it struggles to respond to surging cases of the coronavirus among migrants as thousands are released by the Border Patrol onto the street every week.
Last week, a record-high 7,000 migrants were released in downtown McAllen, where they were immediately tested for the coronavirus through a city contractor. More than 1,500 people tested positive over the past seven days, according to a city document issued Wednesday, compared to a total of 7,000 confirmed cases over the past five months. Those who test positive are told to quarantine for two days but are ultimately released into the public.
The city said in a statement that the "shockingly large number of immigrants" released by Customs and Border Protection into the city overwhelmed Catholic Charities, which provides humanitarian services in the city for migrants. "This significant change increases the threat of COVID spread or other lawlessness within the city," the city said.
The Catholic Charities shelter downtown has taken in migrants released by federal border authorities for seven years but has never seen numbers like those over the past few weeks. In early July, the shelter averaged 750 arrivals daily, increasing to 1,100, and up to 1,900 per day in the first few days of August. The center is only approved to hold 1,236 people at a time.
“Faced with a rapidly escalating surge of immigrants at the Texas-Mexico Border, the City of McAllen’s Emergency Management Office, in coordination with City Management and in accordance with the Mayor’s Declaration of Local Disaster executed on August 2, 2021, took swift action to begin its efforts to mitigate emergent health and safety risks,” the city wrote in a statement issued Wednesday.
To avoid releasing hundreds of people on the street every day, McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos declared a local state of disaster that allowed the city to get reimbursed by the country and state for costs incurred responding to the emergency. That includes renting a larger property several miles north where far more people can be held at once.
The trouble for McAllen is that its contractor overseeing coronavirus testing among migrants, the American Medical Response, leases city property downtown, complicating how migrants with and without the coronavirus will be transported to and from testing.
The McAllen City Commission also instructed the city’s emergency management office and city management to ask Hidalgo County to put up an emergency management facility elsewhere in the city to deal with the “overwhelming” number of migrants being released in the town. The commission also told the city to ask the Biden administration for relief to deal with the escalating situation.
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