Hidalgo County asks feds not to release migrants with COVID-19

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez on Tuesday asked the federal government to stop releasing migrants who test positive for COVID-19 while simultaneously asking the governor to return the authority to implement safety mandates, like using masks in public.

Cortez made the request a day after McAllen’s largest migrant shelter announced it had reached capacity due to the high number of migrants Border Patrol was releasing into the community.

Overwhelmed by the number of migrants crossing illegally, Border Patrol officials also proposed closing down multiple checkpoints to move agents into processing duties. That proposed move, however, has yet to be approved by the federal government.

All of it comes as COVID-19 figures continue to increase in Hidalgo County.

“We have been doing well as a community in slowing the spread of this deadly virus,” Cortez said in a news release Tuesday. “But ill-conceived policies by both the federal and state governments are beginning to have serious consequences on Hidalgo County.

“I call on federal immigration officials to stop releasing infected migrants into our community and I am further calling on Governor Abbott to return to Hidalgo County the safety tools he took away that would help us slow the spread of this disease.”

According to the release, the county judge made the decision after he heard reports that some migrants, possibly sick with the virus, were interacting in public without facial coverings.

Cortez also called on Abbott to restore Hidalgo County’s ability to implement safety measures, such as mask mandates, in order to help contain a surge in COVID-19 “that is beginning to tax local resources.”

Abbott lifted that mandate March 10.

“We now face a potential crisis because of the federal policy of releasing infected migrants into our community, coupled with the state policy that prohibits us from implementing essential safety measures,” Cortez said. “This is unacceptable.”

Abbott responded to the increase in illegal crossings Tuesday by ordering national guardsmen to assist Texas Department of Public Safety troopers with arresting migrants who trespass or break any state laws. Abbott’s order, however, will not be enforced in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Texas Department of Public Safety officials.