Laredo signs disaster declaration, renews request to stop Valley migrant transfers

Laredo officials issued an emergency order, similar to those signed in McAllen and Hidalgo County, and renewed a request for a temporary restraining order to keep migrants from the Valley from being transported to Laredo.

On Wednesday, Mayor Pete Saenz signed the disaster declaration and refiled a request to stop the transportation of migrants from the Valley to their city in an ongoing lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security.

The disaster declaration and an emergency hearing request cited a lack of space in the local shelters and insufficient medical care available.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection customarily sends migrants who cannot be released from one Border Patrol sector to another. Hundreds are sent from the Rio Grande Valley to Laredo on a daily basis, but the practice came under scrutiny after July 9, when a rise in COVID-19 cases among migrants caused the only overnight shelter to close down under quarantine.

On July 21, Border Patrol agreed to stop sending migrants to Laredo for a period of ten days, but the practice resumed this weekend after the number of people detained in the Rio Grande Valley became unsustainable.

By Monday, Laredo’s health department placed the shelter under quarantine again.

“The NGO is currently providing care to 73 COVID positive RIMs (migrants) and will likely reach its maximum capacity to hold COVID positive persons by today (Wednesday) or tomorrow morning, Thursday, August 5, 2021,” the request read.

The city urged the judge to act quickly, stating, “immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the City of Laredo if Defendants’ acts are not immediately enjoined.”

Medical resources are becoming limited.

The two local hospitals are facing a growing number of COVID-19 cases and are already on diversion, a hospital practice that sends overflow patients to other neighboring hospitals.

On Wednesday, a three-month old baby who was part of a family sent from the Rio Grande Valley was sent to the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms, according to a news release.

“Furthermore, the city is not equipped with a pediatric unit to serve family units should an emergency arise,” the release stated.

The situation lent merit to the request when it stated, “Both hospitals have reported multiple critical patients at their emergency departments. Furthermore, the lack of pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) and little to no available adult ICU beds restricts the local hospitals’ ability to accept COVID-19 patients, if at all.”

The same concerns were echoed in the emergency order that was signed on the same day. An emergency management plan was activated in the city.

Since the practice to send migrants from the Valley to Laredo resumed, 283 migrants have been transferred there, according to the news release.

The emergency hearing request was filed on Wednesday, but as of Thursday morning, no hearing had yet been scheduled before U.S. District Judge Diana Saldaña.

“Our fate to resolve this issue is in the hands of the court,” Saenz, the Laredo mayor, said. “We continue to monitor the situation and fast actions are needed, as our City is facing a public health crisis. The influx of bussed migrants will create more issues as our hospitals lack staff and NGOs are at capacity.”