The Democratic mayor of a Texas border town is pleading with the Biden administration to do more to stop the flood of migrants at the southern border at the same time the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that the federal government's failure to test migrants for COVID-19 puts the health of Americans at great risk.
Bruno Lozano, who serves as mayor of Del Rio, Texas, put out a video on Twitter Friday morning warning about the "real time threats" of COVID-19 and "other communicable diseases."
"This is something that really needs to be brought to light," the mayor said. "We need quick action from the administration. We need quick attention to this. We need a response in real-time."
Those health threats were underscored in a government watchdog report on the Biden administration's handling of the migrant crisis. The IG report called out Customs and Border Protection's failure to "conduct COVID-19 testing for migrants who enter…custody" and noted that the White House has not required it to do so. That policy, the IG wrote, puts federal employers' "support staff, communities, and migrants at greater risk of contracting the virus."
Lozano says nearly 11,000 migrants currently sit under the Del Rio International Bridge, with thousands more crossing in every few hours. At the current rate, the number of migrants waiting for processing at the Del Rio International Bridge could soon surpass the entire population of the city, which sits at just under 36,000.
Texas governor Greg Abbott (R.) attacked the federal government's response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Del Rio, noting the lack of proper shelter, health care, and safety precautions for the thousands of migrants in the city.
"The Biden administration is in complete disarray and is handling the border crisis as badly as the evacuation from Afghanistan," Abbott said.
A COVID-19 outbreak among the migrants could prove disastrous for the town of Del Rio. The regional hospital in the area, Val Verde, only hosts seven ICU beds.
According to the IG, the Biden administration never "documented" a "formal policy" for COVID-19 testing of migrants. The sheer volume of migrants crossing the border makes "proper physical distancing in holding facilities" impossible. The crisis grew so dire in the Del Rio sector that the Department of Homeland Security deployed agents from its Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office from March until May.
Despite Lozano's appeals to the White House, DHS leadership told watchdogs the agency's chief medical officer will not finish its "active monitoring and impact analysis of mitigation efforts" against the spread of COVID-19 until Sept. 30, 2022.
"The Department will prioritize efforts related to the DHS Chief Medical Officer to enhance the level of coordinated oversight and resource support for the DHS public health and medical enterprise," the agency wrote in the report. "The estimated completion date is September 30, 2022."
More than 1.5 million migrants have crossed the southern border in 2021. The month of July saw the most migrants encounters at the southern border in 21 years. The 212,000 apprehensions eclipsed the previous record high set in June. August saw 208,887 encounters—a 317 percent increase from August 2020.
Local Democratic officials are beginning to push back against the White House. The city of Laredo, Texas, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on July 16, alleging that DHS's practice of releasing migrants into the town spread COVID-19 and contributed to overcrowding in hospitals.
"Unfortunately, the federal government has left this public health concern to be tackled by our local government with no consideration of the city's little to no resources nor regard for the deadly ramifications it could have on the country," the lawsuit says.
The IG report placed the spread of COVID-19 among migrants in part on the Biden administration's "erosion of Title 42 authority," a federal law that empowers the federal government to turn away migrants at the border out of concern they may spread disease. On Jan. 30, President Joe Biden fulfilled a campaign promise of exempting children from Title 42. He has since broadened that exemption to many migrant families and others facing purported humanitarian concerns in their home countries.