Texas Border City Struggles with COVID-19 Outbreak at Migrant Shelter

by RANDY CLARK 15 Jul 2021

For the past week, Laredo, Texas, has wrestled with a COVID-19 outbreak at a local migrant shelter as the Biden Administration makes plans to terminate the Title 42 CDC emergency order. Texas State Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) issued a public warning last Friday, noting 172 migrants at the old Holding Institute building are being quarantined after testing positive.

Sen. Zaffirini says Border Patrol is sending 3 to 6 buses of migrants per day, transporting all COVID-19 infected cases from the Rio Grande Valley to the private shelter. The organization accepts COVID-19 cases for humanitarian reasons.

The senator says she is working with the Laredo Health Authority and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to seek a solution to the issue, including access to federal resources.

On Monday, a special session of the Laredo City Council addressed the migrant transfers from the Rio Grande Valley. Dr. Victor Trevino, from the local health authority, advised that action was needed to address what he described as a preventable crisis.

“We need to mitigate and slow down the mass release of COVID-19 positive migrants in our community,” Trevino said. “In the last three to five days, we have seen an exponential growth in hospital visits related to the increase in migrant transfers with COVID-19 to the Holding Institute, which is the basis for the quarantine,” he added.

Dr. Trevino further argues that a balance needs to be found between the humanitarian efforts of the shelters and the broader community health impacts.

Laredo Health Director Richard Chamberlain advised the council that a total of 336 migrants tested positive for COVID-19 at the Holding Institute and at a Catholic Charities shelter as of Sunday, July 11. Honduran migrants constitute most of the positive cases.

Laredo Fire Chief Guillermo Heard noted that migrants arriving from Rio Grande Valley are screened, tested, and offered vaccines at the shelters. From the shelter, they are transferred to the Laredo airport or bus terminal.

Mayor Pete Saenz asked Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Troy Miller to immediately suspend the migrant transfers from the Rio Grande Valley, arguing the community is under-prepared without federal help. In his closing remarks, Mayor Saenz indicated that CBP Acting Commissioner Miller agreed to suspend the transfers for three days but are scheduled to resume on July 15.