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Washington – The Biden administration offers to reimburse local officials and nonprofits in Texas that help migrant families released from U.S. border custody by testing them for COVID-19 and providing them with shelter, according to one Department of Homeland Security note obtained by CBS News.

But the Republican Gov. of Texas, Greg Abbott, rejected the proposal, claiming it amounts to an “illegal immigration program.”

The DHS memo says qualified state, local and tribal agencies would be reimbursed for accommodation and COVID-19 testing of migrant parents and children who have been released from border patrol custody. This explains why prolonged stays in US border patrol facilities “are not conducive to the health and well-being of migrant families and neighboring communities.” And he goes on to say that DHS’s program “mitigates that risk” and would allow communities to conduct the necessary testing and isolation. DHS also promised that there would be “a sufficient number” of US border patrol officers on the southern border.

The memo also recommends that migrants entering the United States undergo rapid antigen testing at sites run by city or county officials and suggests that families who test positive should be isolated for 10 days as per guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And although “group sheltering” is not allowed for the COVID-19 quarantine, the memo advises families should stay together when possible.

Abbott said in a statement to CBS News that Texas “would not help a program that makes our country a magnet for illegal immigration.”

A DHS spokesperson urged the governor to “reconsider his decision to reject DHS’s deal with local Texas authorities that would allow the testing of even migrant families that Governor Abbott says he wants.”

Abbott had accused the Biden administration of “releasing immigrants to South Texas who exposed Texans to COVID,” he said in an interview with CNBC this week.

“Some of these people were put on buses, taking this COVID to other states in the United States,” he added.

But Brownsville, Texas Mayor Trey Mendez said out of 1,800 migrants tested for COVID-19, 108 migrants tested positive for the virus after entering Brownsville, a positivity rate of 6.3% .

“The rate of positivity we’re seeing with migrants right now is pretty similar to what we’re seeing in the rest of the state,” Mendez told CBS News. “It’s not like these people are testing at higher rates or anything like that.”

In fact, their infection rate is actually lower than that of the state, which has averaged around 4,800 cases per day in recent days – a positivity rate of almost 9%.

Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate on Wednesday and allowed all businesses to open at 100% capacity for the first time in nearly a year, hosting massive social gatherings in concert halls, sports stadiums and other public places that were lacking for the last year. Mask warrants were associated with a 1.9% decrease in daily growth rates of COVID-19-related deaths 81 to 100 days after implementation, according to a study released by the CDC on Friday.

To help keep the virus at bay, the Texas Emergency Management Department has issued 10,000 rapid COVID-19 tests to city officials in Brownsville to help them test migrants awaiting immigration hearings in United States. But Mendez would still like the federal government to take charge of testing asylum seekers entering the United States through Brownsville, and he says he talks to the Biden administration about it “almost every day.”

The disagreement between the governor and the White House over how to handle COVID testing of asylum seekers has left border mayors in the unenviable position of seeking help for their cash-strapped cities in the midst of ‘a partisan struggle.

“My main request at this point is for the administration to test asylum seekers,” Mendez said. “We receive around 100 asylum seekers a day.”

Still, the mayor agrees with DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ assessment earlier this week that the influx of undocumented migrants to the US-Mexico border has not reached a “crisis level.” “.

“I think the main reason it’s not a crisis is that the federal government has actually been very, very aware of the situation,” Mendez told reporters Thursday.

The Matamoros, Mexico migrant camp just across from Brownsville is an area where the federal government has funneled resources for testing. Asylum seekers formerly under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program are now tested by U.S. border officials before entering the United States, as the federal government struggles to process up to 25,000 eligible people previously required to wait in Mexico for their immigration court hearings. .

In nearby McAllen, Texas, city officials are using 6,000 COVID-19 tests granted by the Texas Emergency Management Division to partner NGOs, Sister Norma Pimentel and Catholic charities, for distribution.

“The border patrol drops off migrants at the downtown McAllen bus station, where McAllen town tents have been set up and are run by volunteers from Catholic charities who administer the tests,” told CBS News Xochitl Mora, city government communications director. . “Those who test positive are quarantined by Catholic charities at local hotels. Those who test negative cross the street to the Catholic Charities Respite Center for food, shelter, care and treatment . “

Pimentel said his charity receives between 100 and 150 families a day and most tests were negative for Covid-19.

“We want to make sure everyone, before they even come to my center or on a bus or plane, is negative,” Pimental told CBS News. We don’t want this COVID exposed to more people. ”


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