More Illegal Immigrants, Border Agents Testing Positive for COVID-19: DHS Official

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
August 6, 2021 Updated: August 6, 2021

The rate at which illegal immigrants are testing positive for COVID-19 has “increased significantly” in recent weeks, a Department of Homeland Security official said this week.

The number of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who have tested positive has also risen, despite more and more of them getting vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The rates at which encountered noncitizens are testing positive for COVID-19 have increased significantly in recent weeks. And although the rate of infection among CBP officers had been declining, this rate recently began increasing again, even though the percentage of officers and agents who have been fully vaccinated has grown significantly since January. This has led to increasing numbers of CBP personnel being isolated and hospitalized,” David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy, said in a court filing.

Shahoulian included the information as he warned a federal judge of “adverse consequences” if the judge decides to block enforcement of Title 42, an order the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has in place that enables border agents to immediately expel illegal aliens who cross into the United States because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal officials have been releasing COVID-19 positive immigrants in Texas and other border states, stoking concern that the illegal immigrants are spreading the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.

The city of McAllen said Wednesday that over 7,000 COVID-19 positive aliens have been released into the city by CBP since February, including 1,500 in the previous week. That prompted them to set up an emergency shelter.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told senators during a recent congressional hearing that federal officials do not always notify local jurisdictions before releasing illegal immigrants.

The number of illegal border crossings keeps rising during the Biden administration, coming in at over 200,000 in July. That surge has strained Department of Homeland Security (DHS) operations and filled DHS facilities well beyond their capacity, according to the recent filing.

As of Aug. 1, Border Patrol was at 389 percent of its COVID-19 adjusted capacity along the southwest border.

Border Patrol facilities on that date were holding 17,778 illegal immigrants, including 2,223 immigrant children without parents, known as unaccompanied minors.

The adjusted capacity is 4,706.

Facilities were overfilled in seven of nine sectors at the southwest border, including holding 10,002 illegal immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector, the epicenter of the current surge.

That was 783 percent over the COVID-19 adjusted capacity and 287 percent above its normal capacity.

“These capacity figures are extremely worrisome, particularly because of the continued spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant,” Shahoulian said.

U.S. officials have said recently that the variant is more transmissible and early research indicates it is better at breaking through vaccine protection than other variants.

Migrants Housed In Donna, TX As Border Facilities Struggle To Handle Surge
Young children lie inside a pod at the Department of Homeland Security holding facility run by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) in Donna, Texas, on March 30, 2021. (Dario Lopez-Mills/ Pool/Getty Images)

If Title 42 is blocked, DHS officials would not be able to safely hold and process all the illegal immigrants who are entering the United States, according to Shahoulian.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the original Title 42 order in October 2020. A new version of the order issued in August came after officials evaluated “the particular risks of COVID-19 transmission” in DHS facilities, including “the significant increase in CBP encounters that has caused DHS facilities to exceed COVID-constrained capacity and to routinely exceed even non-COVID capacity” and the emergence of the Delta variant, government officials said in another filing in the same case this week.

The August order was extended this week indefinitely.

Shahoulian and other officials are trying to convince U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan not to block temporarily or permanently use of Title 42.

Three families who were expelled under the order sued the government in January, arguing that they were blocked illegally from asserting claims for humanitarian protection like asylum.

The parties said in two joint filings this week that they were negotiating for about six months but that talks broke down.

Sullivan proposed mediation, but that wouldn’t be beneficial, the parties said in a joint filing on Wednesday. Instead, they said the case should move forward.

A reply to the government’s filings by plaintiffs, who are being represented by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, was expected by the end of the week.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated when the case was brought. It was filed in January. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.