A La Joya, Texas, police officer was waved into the local Whataburger this week by an individual who was concerned about a group of individuals there who appeared to be ill. The officer discovered a family of migrants who claimed they had been apprehended several days before by the Border Patrol and had tested positive for COVID-19. This suggests there are serious flaws in DHS’s quarantine policies.
Back in March, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a statement on the situation at the Southwest border. He asserted that the Biden administration would continue to expel migrants—including migrant families—under Trump-era orders issued by the CDC under Title 42 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayorkas admitted that the department could only expel family migrants if the Mexican government agreed to take them back, which is becoming a rarity; of the more than 50,000 migrants in family units that were apprehended by Border Patrol at the Southwest border in June, fewer than 8,100 were expelled under Title 42.
The secretary asserted, however, that DHS was taking steps to contain the spread of the coronavirus by such migrants and had “partnered with community-based organizations to test and quarantine families that Mexico has not had the capacity to receive.”
He further contended that his department had “developed a framework for partnering with local mayors and public health officials to pay for 100% of the expense for testing, isolation, and quarantine for migrants”.
Which brings me back to the Whataburger in La Joya, a border town just west of McAllen.
According to La Joya Police Sgt. Manuel Casas, no one had told his city or his police department that the migrants were there, “and no one told us that these people were possibly ill.” I suppose that DHS’s ability to “partner” only goes so far.
Apparently, the family was staying at the nearby Texas Inn & Suites, in rooms that had been booked by Catholic Charities of The Rio Grande Valley to house migrants who had been apprehended by the Border Patrol and released.
Sgt. Casas explained: “The information we have is that everyone that is staying in that hotel is COVID-19 positive because it's being rented out for them.”
The hotel denies that they have “any problems” with COVID-19 (although “officers observed 20 to 30 people outside not wearing masks”, according to Fox News). This article suggests, however, that DHS’s quarantine regime poses a danger to those living in towns along the Southwest border (and elsewhere), because it appears to be no “quarantine” at all.
CDC explains that the concept of quarantine is deeply rooted in world immigration history:
The practice of quarantine, as we know it, began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days.
Today, the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at CDC “is empowered to detain, medically examine, or conditionally release individuals and wildlife suspected of carrying a communicable disease.”
That division still runs 20 quarantine stations, mostly at major ports of entry. The closest one to La Joya is in Houston, but it is the relatively far away El Paso quarantine station that has jurisdiction over the town.
If COVID-positive migrants (or anyone else for that matter) are free to leave a hotel in which they are being housed and head down the road for burger, they aren’t in “quarantine”.
Sgt. Casas made clear that his department does not have the authority to “stop any of the migrants from leaving the hotel and moving on to another destination in the United States”. That means that La Joya’s problems are your problems, too.
But assuming he’s correct (and there is no reason to believe he isn’t), even if the police could restrict the movements of a group of COVID-positive migrants in order to protect the community, town officials were never told those migrants were there to begin with.
When it comes to COVID and the border, it seems like DHS is saying one thing and doing another. Worse, at the same time that President Biden is warning of “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”, it seems his administration is handing COVID-positive migrants over to NGOs with no restrictions on their movement, and no notice to local officials in the places they are housed.
To quote the president, “C’mon, man!”