WORLD Record crush of migrants, virus stressing US border


Record crush of migrants, virus stressing US border

12:03, August 05, 2021

A migrant woman camping at the El Chaparral border port of entry with the US gestures as a health worker applies a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus disease vaccine, amid Republican criticism that the Delta variant is spreading in southern US states because of increased border crossings, in Tijuana, Mexico, on Aug 3, 2021. (Photo: Agencies)

With a resurgence of the coronavirus nationally and the number of undocumented immigrants crossing the US southwestern border at a 21-year high, the Biden administration plans to give COVID-19 shots to migrants as they enter the country, according to a published report.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to give migrants the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine as they come into custody for processing by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The Post cited two DHS officials familiar with the plan.

The J&J vaccine's single-dose regimen is better suited to a transient population, the DHS officials told the newspaper.

The administration also will indefinitely extend a Trump administration-era border policy that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday.

The public health authority, known as Title 42 under the US Code, was invoked at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It has been criticized by immigrant advocates, attorneys and health experts who claim it has no health basis and puts migrants at risk.

The CDC order "temporarily suspends the introduction of certain noncitizens based on the Director's determination that introduction of such noncitizens" through the Mexico or Canada border "creates a serious danger of the introduction of COVID-19 into the United States", the agency said in a statement Monday.

So far, COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to some migrants already in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, although Fox News reported last month that 30 percent of those in ICE custody are declining the shots.

The number of children traveling alone who were picked up at the Mexican border by US immigration authorities likely hit an all-time high in July, and the number of people who arrived as families likely reached its second-highest total on record, a US official said Monday, citing preliminary government figures.

US authorities likely picked up more than 19,000 unaccompanied children in July, exceeding the previous high of 18,877 in March, according to David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security. The June total was 15,253.

Overall, US authorities stopped migrants about 210,000 times at the border in July, up from 188,829 in June and the highest total since 2000.

The activity was heavily concentrated in the Border Patrol's Del Rio and Rio Grande Valley sectors in south Texas, accounting for more than 7 of 10 people who arrived as families.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the "epicenter of the current surge", agents stopped migrants about 78,000 times in July, Shahoulian said, up from 59,380 in June and 51,149 in May.

On Tuesday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against Texas Governor Greg Abbott's executive order directing state troopers to pull over vehicles whose drivers are transporting migrants who pose a risk of carrying the coronavirus.

Abbott on July 28 instructed state troopers to reroute such vehicles back to their origin point of a port of entry or seize the vehicles if drivers don't comply. He had said in a statement that the move aimed to "reduce the burden on our communities".

The Homeland Security Department said it would continue to enforce the Title 42 ban on asylum for single adults and families despite the growing pressure from pro-immigration groups. Unaccompanied children are exempt from the rule.

The number of people stopped in families is expected to hit an all-time high for the 2021 fiscal year that ends Sept 30, Shaoulian said, adding it likely will be higher if courts order that the pandemic-related powers be lifted.

The Border Patrol had 17,778 people in custody on Sunday, despite a "COVID-19 adjusted capacity" of 4,706, Shaoulian said.

While the majority of migrants have been sent back, more than 300,000 have been remanded to ICE custody or released with future court dates.

Shahoulian said that CBP has "limited capacity to hold and process families, and the current migrant surge and ongoing pandemic have only compounded these issues".

"The rates at which encountered noncitizens are testing positive for COVID-19 have increased significantly in recent weeks," he said.

"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," he said.

The Biden administration said Title 42 is responsible for turning away most single adult migrants who cross illegally. The order is used to turn away roughly 100,000 mostly single adults each month.

The ACLU, along with other immigrant advocacy groups, said Monday it was going back to court over the continued use of Title 42.

"We gave the Biden administration seven months but now have no choice but to return to court given the danger families are facing and the absence of any plan to immediately end Title 42," said the ACLU's Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the litigation.

About 20,000 detainees in ICE custody have received a vaccine dose so far. More than 1,000 immigrants were infected as of Aug 1 among more than 22,500 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, and nine have died, the Post reported.

The agency has released more than 100,000 recent border-crossers in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas since October, including 9,000 last week.

ICE officials are preparing to send at least 500 officers and personnel to temporarily assist CBP in sectors in the most overcrowded areas. ICE medical staff will coordinate the vaccines, according to two officials with knowledge of the tentative plan, the Post reported.

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