Border Patrol not testing migrants for COVID before they’re released across US

Migrants who illegally come across the U.S.-Mexico border and are apprehended by Border Patrol are not being tested for the coronavirus before being released from custody and allowed to travel across the United States, the Washington Examiner has learned.

“They aren’t tested at encounter. [Unaccompanied children] and family units are moved out of custody quickly. If they are infected and do not have obvious symptoms, they are sent out,” a senior Customs and Border Protection official told the Washington Examineron Monday. The official is not a union member and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Migrant families and children are “only tested once we turn them over or unless symptomatic,” the official added.

Chris Cabrera, National Border Patrol Council spokesman, said in an email Monday that the “majority of people in Border Patrol custody are not tested.”

“If an individual shows signs or symptoms of COVID-19 they will be sent for testing,” Cabrera wrote in an email. “If an individual has any type of medical emergency and is transported to the hospital for treatment, the hospital will test them as a precaution.”

It is unknown how many people were given coronavirus tests or how many had the virus when they were released. Neither person would provide an estimate calculation.

However, since February, more than 280,000 children and parents have been encountered at the southern border, according to federal data. At least 120,000 people have been released into the U.S. 

The official added that there is no Department of Homeland Security policy that requires the government to test the hundreds of thousands of people Border Patrol agents have taken into custody since the start of the Biden administration in January. 

The DHS did not deny that it does not have a policy that requires migrants to be tested by Border Patrol.

“If anyone exhibits signs of illness in CBP custody, they are referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis, and treatment,” DHS wrote in an email. “CBP facilitates testing upon transfer or release of persons from CBP custody by coordinating with local, governmental, and non-governmental entities as appropriate.”

Local officials in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where more migrants attempt to get across than any other part of the 2,000-mile border, began speaking out last week, alleging that the Border Patrol was taking people into custody and then letting them go without first checking them if they have the coronavirus.

“Faced with multiple reports that migrants are being released in Hidalgo County infected with COVID-19, I am calling on federal immigration officials to stop releasing these migrants into our communities,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said in a plea for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to stop the releases.

The GOP Doctors Caucus wrote DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday, asking if department employees were administering coronavirus tests at the border.

Cabrera told Fox News Live that “not everyone we encounter we test, only those that exhibit some type of symptoms and not everybody has symptoms that has it.”

“We’re releasing people out of the door day in and day out with actual positive tests for COVID, and more keep popping up,” Cabrera said.

In an incident that made national headlines last week, a migrant family was observed eating at a fast-food restaurant in La Joya, Texas, after one member had tested positive and been released. Rather than taking the family in at Catholic Charities’ humanitarian respite center in McAllen after the Border Patrol released them from custody, the organization put up the family in a nearby hotel. 

The incident exposed how the Biden administration has allowed migrants to be released but is still refusing travelers from overseas and will not allow noncitizens to come across the border from Canada or Mexico.

The CBP official said agents are increasingly getting sick and testing positive for the coronavirus as a result of being exposed as more people cross the border in recent weeks.

Eighty-seven Border Patrol agents who work in the Rio Grande Valley and neighboring Laredo region have tested positive for the coronavirus as the U.S. faces a new wave of the virus following the introduction of the delta variant from India.

“The DHS Secretary must prioritize the health and safety of border agents and border communities to help them through this public health emergency,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, said last week. “Our border patrol agents have been thanklessly serving our southern border and processing immigrants, despite the dangers from the virus.”