Tens of thousands of migrants are once again crossing illegally into the U.S. and overwhelming immigration and border officials, as the Department of Homeland Security announced most won’t be tested for COVID before they’re released into the interior.
Rather, DHS officials said, the Biden administration will rely on local communities along the border and elsewhere to conduct testing, though it’s not clear if the government will be providing those localities with testing resources.
Already, there is concern that new outbreaks of the virus can and will occur “as thousands of families and children are released from federal custody into border communities and travel across the United States,” the Washington Examiner reported Saturday.
The decision comes as the administration struggles to cope with the deepening migrant crisis at the U.S. southwest border, where immigration authorities are now seeing upwards of 20,000 illegal immigrants per week, according to February figures.
And while border agents are authorized to return adults to Mexico immediately, they are not empowered to return children and many families, according to reports.
Separately, the New York Post reported that many migrants trying to cross the border illegally have been told by Mexican authorities they would be able to stay in the U.S..
“The new influx is largely due to instability and spiraling COVID-19 infection rates in Central American countries as well as perceptions of a shift in immigration rules under the Biden Administration,” The Post reported, citing U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
Border officials last week said that as many as 350 unaccompanied children per week were crossing into the U.S., which is more than four times the number crossing last fall when the Trump administration’s strict enforcement policies were still in place.
WENY reported that most people crossing illegally since October have been single adults. Border Patrol agents arrested more than 75,000 migrants in January along the southwestern border, which was an increase from 71,000 in December.
“The numbers are very high. They’re not the highest ever, but they’re particularly high for this time of year,” Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and former official with HHS, told WENY. “There is some seasonal variation and usually the numbers are higher in springtime than in winter, so to see such high numbers in February is very unusual.”
Meanwhile, The Post notes that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which deals with unaccompanied minors, reported that its personnel are processing about 337 children every day. More than 4,000 unaccompanied minors were being housed in the agency’s shelters in January, which is an increase of 19 percent since December.
Children crossing unaccompanied by adults have to be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours.
Migrant overflow facilities have been operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions. But the Post reports that the Biden administration instructed HHS to reopen their facilities to pre-pandemic levels in order to accommodate the crush of migrants, indicating that the White House expects numbers to dramatically increase.
As for the decision not to test migrants for the virus before releasing them, members of Congress from border states are voicing concerns that COVID will spread again n the U.S.
What’s more, Border Patrol officers are not legally allowed to force migrants suspected of carrying the virus into a 14-day quarantine. Instead, agents have been ordered to inform migrants suspected of being positive to consult “local health systems,” which the CPB says “could be any local health authority, hospital, health facility, etc. depending on the area.”
“Immigrant advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, and local governments have instead been tasked with running tests as a result of the Biden administration’s inaction,” the Washington Examiner reported.
The outlet noted further that while the U.S. has surpassed other nations in the race to vaccinate its population, releasing COVID-infected migrants into the country will complicate efforts to eradicate the virus.
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