October 27, 2021

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As Abbott hits Biden for releasing migrants with COVID, White House asks why Texas rejects funds to test them – The Dallas Morning News

4 min read

WASHINGTON — Gov. Greg Abbott accused the Biden administration Thursday of callously releasing ailing migrants into Texas, prompting the White House to hit back that he’s the one putting Texans at risk by blocking federal funds meant to provide them COVID-19 tests.

The volleys reflect an ongoing feud, along with jockeying to avoid blame and to score points on several related fronts: If the pandemic roars back in Texas, is it because of migrants President Joe Biden released or because Abbott ended the state’s mask mandate?

“I’m hot under the collar because, as it turns out, some of the people coming across the border test positive for COVID-19,” Abbott said on a conservative talk show on Houston’s KTRH-AM. “We’ve got our own challenges with COVID-19 … only to be challenged with the influx of people coming in from the border who could be increasing the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration must stop this illegal immigration program they’ve opened.”

Hours later, White House press secretary Jen Psaki went out of her way to needle the governor, pivoting from a question from Fox News about the lack of testing at the border while air travelers arriving from overseas must show a negative test.

“Governor Abbott has referred to what’s happening at the border as … an open borders policy. That is absolutely incorrect,” she said. “The border’s not open. The vast majority of individuals apprehended or encountered at the border continue to be denied entry and are returned.”

When Biden accused Abbott last week of “Neanderthal thinking” in rejecting public health guidance about masks, the governor hit back that the president was “releasing COVID-positive illegal immigrants in our state.”

Abbott and other Republicans have drummed claims that Biden’s reversal of Trump-era border policies has unleashed a torrent of unlawful migration. Democrats say he’s trying to deflect attention from the catastrophic power outages that left millions of Texans freezing for days last month.

Against that backdrop, Psaki hit Abbott for refusing federal funds that would go to local governments and nonprofits for testing migrants.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency “have stepped in and work with local mayors, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and public health officials in Texas to implement a system to provide COVID-19 testing and, as needed, isolation and quarantine for families released from Border Patrol facilities,” Psaki said. “Their proposal and agreement would cover 100% of the expense of the testing, isolation and quarantine. But Governor Abbott has decided to reject that.”

The state would have to agree for the funding of coronavirus tests to take place. Abbott’s argument is that testing is a federal responsibility, like border enforcement, though on Saturday he announced that he would send state troopers and National Guard members to the border.

Abbott touted the deployments, dubbed Operation Lone Star, during a visit to Mission on Tuesday at which he accused Biden of indifference to a growing crisis.

“What Biden has implemented actually is an open border policy,” the governor said Thursday on WBAP-AM’s Chris Salcedo Show — though what he then described was not an open border but rather an escalation of detentions as migrant flows spike.

So far In 2021, more than 108,000 apprehensions have been made in the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, compared with 90,000 in all of last year, Abbott said. “And they’re going to be coming across the border even more because of these Biden policies. We are at crisis levels now. We will be at catastrophic levels probably in about another month from now, unless the administration stops it.”

Psaki also pushed back against allegations from Abbott and others that Customs and Border Protection officers have not had access to vaccines.

“He has suggested that we are not vaccinating CBP officers,” she said. “We like to deal with facts around here. There’s no higher priority than the health and safety of our federal workforce. … More than 64,000 front-line DHS employees, including members of U.S. Border Patrol, have received a vaccination.”

Three Texans in Congress wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday raising that same concern.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, was joined by Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 8,000 CBP employees have tested positive for COVID, and 27 have died. A total of 9,686 [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detainees have tested positive for COVID in the past year,” they wrote. “It is imperative that DHS quickly take action to vaccinate all DHS law enforcement officers and agents.”

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