Congress Questions DHS on COVID-19 Spike in Border States

Brown Field Station Border Patrol agents work with staff during medical screening and processing of illegal aliens crossing the Mexican border into Texas. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Mani Albrecht)
Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Mani Albrecht

Members of Congress sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf regarding the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in states along the U.S. southern border. The congressional delegation seeks to discover the impact of legal and illegal border crossings on the number of cases and hospitalizations in counties located along the Mexico-U.S. border.

U.S. Representatives Chip Roy (R-TX), Paul A Gosar (R-AZ), and Ted Budd (R-NC) addressed their questions in a letter to DHS Acting Secretary Wolf regarding the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in states along the border. The letter (attached below) raises questions about U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Border Patrol encounter with those legally and illegally crossing the border from Mexico. It also seeks to clarify the agency’s actions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.

The representatives began with a discussion of the “significant national decline in COVID-19 fatalities.”

“Many southern states, however, including Texas, have seen recent increases in COVID- 19-positive hospitalizations,” the representatives stated. “As Texas and other states along the border work to address increases in cases and hospitalizations, it is imperative that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) collect and report on COVID-19 positive migrants and department personnel.”

The letter goes on to cite recent reports of more than 10,000 new cases daily in California and separately in Texas.

“In the last two weeks, coronavirus hospitalizations have more than doubled in Texas and remain at an all-time high in California, soaring eighty-eight percent as medical centers near capacity in both states,” the representatives continued. “The California counties seeing the largest spikes in hospitalizations and cases are all located in southern California.4 Notably, state officials have pointed to an unusually high number of hospital admissions linked to cross-border traffic from Mexico.”

The representatives posed a series of COVID-19-related questions including:

  1. How many migrants has CBP tested for COVID-19?
    a. What is the positivity rate for those that report positive COVID-19 infections?
  2. Is CBP directly managing positive COVID-19 patients or transferring migrants to local hospitals? What estimates can DHS provide for the number of individuals cl’ossing our border legally everY day who are COVID-19 positive? Is there any effort to ascertain that information and take any action to mitigate the spread of the virus across the border?
  3. If migrants are transferred, how many migrants has CBP transferred to hospitals? To other medical facilities?
  4. What does DHS know about the current state of care for COVID-19 positive individuals in Mexico generally? What about cities adjacent to our border?
  5. How many illegal aliens apprehended within 25 miles of the southern border were transported to hospitals by Border Patrol [or] the Office of Field Operations between February 1st, 2020 and the date of this request?
  6. How many COVID-19 positive migrants have died on U.S. soil?
  7. Do CBP agents have necessary personal protection equipment (PPE) to interact with migrants?
  8. Are CBP agents stopping all cars at check points or are people being ushered through check points out of fear of transmission of the virus?
  9. How many CBP agents have tested positive for COVID-19?
  10. How have normal CBP operations changed in order to address interactions with potential COVID-19 positive migrants?

“It is imperative that DHS and CBP have the necessary tools, resources, and protocols in place to manage a potential outbreak or wave of migrants at the border in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a contribution to increases in hospitalizations in southern states,” the representatives continued. “It is also vital that your department work with the administration, state and local governments, and public health authorities to collect and disseminate data pertinent to understanding the level in which traffic across our border, both legal and illegal, is contributing to the spread of coronavirus in the United States.”

The members of Congress requested a response to these and other border-related questions by Friday, July 15, and an in-person briefing by the following Friday.

Breitbart Texas has asked many of these same questions to CBP officials over the past few weeks. Officials appear to be extremely reluctant to respond directly to the questions.

In an indirect response to questions, deflected to the success of Title 42 coronavirus protection protocols in reducing the number of migrants held in custody and being released into the United States.

CBP officials wrote:

During FY19, more than 26,000 subjects were sent to the hospital or a medical facility, which translates to an average of about 72 trips to the hospital or medical facility per day nationwide. Since the implementation of Title 42, on March 21st and through the end of May, Border Patrol transported 290 subjects to a hospital or medical facility nationwide.  This means that Border Patrol averaged about 4 trips to the hospital or a medical facility per day nationwide.  Even if a subject is taken to the hospital or medical facility, it could be for multiple reasons, and not related to COVID-19.  If a subject is taken to the hospital or a medical facility, it also does not mean that they were admitted to the hospital.

The Title 42 CDC order has allowed our agents on the border to swiftly expel illegal aliens back to Mexico without bringing them into contact with other migrants and CBP personnel. The order is working just as it was intended: to keep Americans safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. CBP had more than 3,400 individuals in custody in early March and now averages around 100 at any given time because of this initiative and other travel restrictions. This is a significant improvement to normal border security operations. These policies must continue until the existing health crisis is no longer threat to the American people.

On its website, CBP reports that 1197 CBP employees tested positive for COVID19. The report does not indicate the number of Border Patrol agents, CBP OFO officers, or CBP AMO agents who tested positive. It also doesn’t disclose how many of the COVID-19 positive cases were connected to line-of-duty infections.

Officials would not respond to direct questions about these statistics.

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Price is a regular panelist on Fox 26 Houston’s What’s Your Point? Sunday-morning talk show. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Facebook.

Chip Roy DHS Letter Letter to DHS Chad Wolf 07-2020

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