Stop pretending that crush of immigrants at Texas border isn’t driving COVID cases

Eugene Garcia

If you’re getting tired of hearing the word “surge,” don’t read the latest news about Texas’ southern border.

According to federal data, U.S. Border Patrol agents detained 834 unaccompanied migrant children at the U.S.–Mexico border Wednesday.

That’s the highest single-day number since the Biden administration began reporting daily total apprehensions of migrant children earlier this year.

And it isn’t an anomaly.

Border apprehensions in July reached about 210,000, the highest monthly total since fiscal year 2000.

More than 19,000 of those encounters were unaccompanied children.

In fairness to Biden administration officials, they probably didn’t see this coming.

When border arrests were rising in the spring, they insisted that the increase was seasonal — it usually is — and that the numbers would subside in the hotter summer months.

But the heat is here and there is no indication that border crossings will recede. If the Border Patrol has many more record-breaking days, August is likely to eclipse July.

Never fear, President Joe Biden says.

“If you take a look at the number of people who are coming, the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of people coming to the border and crossing are being sent back,” he said during a press briefing in March, when border crossings were first rising.

That’s partially true.

Much to the chagrin of many Biden supporters, he has retained use of the Trump-era public health mechanism called Title 42, which permits border agents to swiftly expel migrants without allowing them to seek asylum.

The Biden administration announced it would continue using the policy this past week.

But Title 42 doesn’t prevent all migrants who cross illegally from staying in the U.S. Some are temporarily admitted pending asylum hearings.

What’s more, there’s a higher-than-normal portion of unaccompanied minors, many around 16 or 17 years old. They are probably coming to the U.S. because the Biden administration is allowing them to stay, despite its inability to quickly process or safely house them.

That’s where a second kind of surge starts to matter — the surge of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

“The border communities face particular challenges because of the influx of migrants arriving every single day,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, said in late July. He noted an extremely high CVOID positivity rate among those deported.

According to Cuellar’s July 26 press release, the migrant surge has resulted in the temporary shutdown of Catholic Charities (the primary organization that assists new migrants), nearly 70 border agents testing positive for COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley sector, 17 border agents testing positive for COVID-19 in the Laredo sector, and 233 hospital beds occupied in the area.

The city of McAllen didn’t mince words about the impact of the migrant surge on the local community, either. “As these temporarily admitted immigrants are released, the federal government does not test them for COVID-19,” officials said Wednesday.

The city reports that since mid-February, the Border Patrol has released more than 7,000 immigrants confirmed as having COVID into McAllen.

More than 1,500 of those have come in the past week or so.

The city works with outside organizations to test and quarantine migrants before they travel, but the huge numbers are overwhelming them.

While it’s hard to know how much the migrant surge is driving Delta cases in Texas, it’s folly to think they are wholly unrelated.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s recently blocked order that would allow Texas state troopers to stop vehicles suspected of carrying illegal immigrants on the grounds they might be spreading the virus, was largely a political act with little chance of withstanding a court challenge. But his action at least acknowledges that the surges are probably connected.

That’s more than can be said for the president’s lack of action in controlling the border surge and any surge of illness that stems from it.