McAllen officials on Tuesday approved setting up a temporary emergency shelter in response to the increasing number of migrants coming across the southern border, and after the mayor signed an emergency declaration because of the surge in COVID-19 cases.
The city officials are asking Hidalgo County to place a “temporary emergency shelter on property in McAllen on 23rd Street for the overwhelming number of immigrants stranded in McAllen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” states the city’s press statement.
McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos told local news station KRGV on Aug. 3 that things were going smoothly with the immigrant office and Catholic Charities processing migrants, until about two weeks ago when his community was inundated by a surge of migrants that their system could not handle.
“It was working wonderfully, a couple of weeks ago when we started getting a higher number of immigrants coming in. And then the problem even got a little worse with the fact that the COVID, the positivity rates started going up. So now we have Catholic Charities who are trying to quarantine people, can’t transport them. It got a little more difficult, … we have the governor’s order stating that look, as far as the transportation, it’s kind of tying our hands, making it a little more difficult,” said Villalobos.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott on July 28 had issued an executive order (pdf) prohibiting any person from transporting migrants who had been detained by border patrol for crossing the border illegally. Prohibited transportation also prevents organizations like Catholic Charities from transporting COVID positive immigrants to separate facilities.
The McAllen press release describing the reason the temporary shelter was needed, states that the city had to sign the disaster declaration in order to obtain county and state resources to address the situation. The city also needs the federal government to provide relief due to the increase of migrants being released into the city.
“The current immigration surge began in 2014 under the Obama administration and has continued for seven years to the present surge the community is now experiencing. … For context, in 2020 the total number of Tittle 42 Expulsions on the Southwest Border was 381,928. To date in 2021, in less time, a total of 566,959 Title 42 Expulsions have occurred on the Southwest Border,” states the press release.
According to a Fox News report, since mid-February of 2021, there have been over 7,000 confirmed COVID-19 positive immigrants released into the city of McAllen by CBP, including over 1,500 new cases in the past seven days.
The Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley has said that migrants were tested before entering the facility. Negative cases were housed at their facility and positive cases were placed in other facilities to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
“Despite the City of McAllen and its community partners’ best efforts, the sheer number of immigrants being released into the city has become a crisis: a crisis the City of McAllen did not create and has proactively tried to avoid for seven years,” stated the press statement.
On Monday, the city of McAllen issued a local disaster declaration to receive resources from Hidalgo County and the state of Texas. Hidalgo County had also issued a local disaster declaration.
The disaster declaration was necessary because “we need help immediately from the federal people and quite honestly, even from the state people” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told KRGV, adding that temporary housing is needed because, “these immigrants need to be served, safely, efficiently and effectively, and we’ve run out of space and resources to do so.”
“Then you’re (federal government) putting us in a very critical dangerous way because we’re right in the middle of a pandemic. We know that, statistically, about 8 percent of the immigrants we have tested before do have COVID. In the last week, that amount grew from 8 to 16 percent, so it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” said Cortez.