Local South Texas officials declare disaster declarations due to migrant influx, coronavirus concerns

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EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez on Monday afternoon declared a local disaster declaration due to the high volume of migrants released in the county by border officials and the growing threat of COVID-19 they might bring, telling Border Report that the region “has reached the point of capacity.”

Cortez and three other South Texas county judges from Willacy, Cameron and Starr counties have held firm against issuing disaster declarations that coincide with Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration. But Cortez said Monday’s declaration was necessary and these “extraordinary measures” were taken to help the county hopefully qualify for additional funding to help mitigate untold costs associated with the migrants.

On Monday evening, McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos, whose city is the largest in Hidalgo County, also issued a disaster declaration. The city’s declaration is due to the high numbers of migrants that the city is dealing with as the Department of Homeland Security releases hundreds of migrants per day in downtown McAllen to the care of the nonprofit Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which is operating out of a building owned by the city.

The county’s two-page declaration, which declares that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is releasing an alarmingly substantial number of immigrants into the City of McAllen,” is different from the disaster proclamation issued by Abbott on May 31, 2021.

The city’s two-page declaration was similar in text and tone and also is valid for seven days at which time it will require a vote of the city commission to extend.

“The goal is to put us in a position to make a claim with the fed government to the situation that we have here in Hidalgo County dealing with these legal immigrants,” Cortez said. “We have an overflow where it’s difficult to manage. They’re going into the streets of our communities some of which may not have been tested correctly or not taken the appropriate steps to put them in an isolated situation.”

A local disaster declaration is the first step in securing additional resources to address the disaster, including potential reimbursement from state and federal authorities, his office said.

“My order today is targeting those migrants who are legally in this country seeking asylum, but are being released by immigration officials in high volumes while the spread of COVID-19 is spiking within our community,” Cortez said in a statement.

On social media late Monday, DHS officials said they were processing migrant and adhering to strict Title 42 guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus in border communities. The agency also has begun expedited removal flights of migrant families to their home countries.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a South Texas Democrat who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, told Border Report that Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials apprehended 3,002 migrants on Sunday in the Rio Grande Valley Sector. He also put on social media photos showing hundreds, if not thousands of migrants under the Anzalduas International Bridge, in Mission, Texas, which is part of his congressional district.

On Monday, Hidalgo County officials announced two more deaths and 397 additional coronavirus cases.

The order notes that nonprofit agencies and the City of McAllen are being overwhelmed by the continued influx of these asylum-seeking migrants and can “no longer adequately feed, house, provide medical attention or otherwise accommodate” these migrants.

“We have a law and a policy that’s creating a problem of having too many legal immigrants coming into this area,” Cortez said.

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