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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined conservative host Chris Salcedo on his Newsmax show Aug. 7 to sound off against the Biden administration and its immigration policies as the COVID-19 delta variant fuels another nationwide wave.
"As you know, Biden and NGOs are releasing illegal aliens into Texas with the China virus ... and they are losing control as the infected are wandering off inside of Texas cities with free reign inside those cities and towns," Salcedo said.
"This is exactly what we filed our lawsuit about several months ago," Paxton replied, referring to an April suit that accuses the Biden administration of encouraging COVID-19 spread in border communities. "And it relates to the president just letting people in."
"They’re not even testing these people," Paxton said.
Paxton’s first claim that the Biden administration is "just letting people in" is a claim that has been widely repeated and roundly debunked. PolitiFact has found that, although tens of thousands of people cross the border undetected, the vast majority of migrants encountered by Border Patrol are sent back to Mexico under Title 42 — a Trump-era policy designed to curb COVID-19 spread that the Biden administration has left in place.
Rather, this fact check focuses on Paxton’s claim that the administration is "not even testing these people" being released into the U.S. We found that while there are testing protocols in place, there are examples of cracks in the system through which some untested migrants slip through.
COVID-19 testing protocols have existed at the border under both the present and former administrations. Testing is done via a patchwork of federal agencies, local governments, organizations and contractors at various stages of the immigration process.
In April, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told PolitiFact that it works with state authorities, local authorities and non-governmental organizations to ensure that "100% of noncitizens" are tested for COVID-19 "at some point during their immigration journey." The agency also has told PolitiFact that a negative coronavirus test is required by the federal government before entry to the U.S.
"CBP takes its responsibility to prevent the spread of communicable diseases very seriously," a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson told PolitiFact in a statement. "We value our partners in local communities whose work is critical to moving individuals safely out of CBP/USBP custody and through the appropriate immigration pathway."
While local governments and non-governmental organizations test migrants released from Border Patrol custody, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement test those released in areas without local testing capability. U.S. Health and Human Services is responsible for testing unaccompanied children.
The agencies did not provide a list of the third-party non-governmental organizations or contractors performing tests. Nonetheless, we do know of some examples of local testing being performed.
In Brownsville, for instance, the city conducts a rapid test to each person Border Patrol drops off at the city’s bus terminal. As of Tuesday, the city had tested 13,443 migrants for COVID-19, with 1,249 testing positive and quarantining in the U.S. — a positivity rate of 9.3%. (As of Aug. 6, Texas' positivity rate was 17.3%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
In Laredo, the Holding Institute, a nonprofit, tests migrants released by Border Patrol and quarantines those who test positive, although the nonprofit did not respond to a request for testing numbers Friday.
The agencies also didn’t provide comprehensive testing numbers for migrants released into the U.S. However, a federal document obtained this month by NBC News shows that, over the previous two to three weeks, more than 18% of migrant families and 20% of unaccompanied minors tested positive for COVID-19 before leaving Border Patrol custody. Migrants who test positive before being released are given hotel rooms in which to quarantine.
Federal officials attribute the high COVID positivity rate among undocumented migrants to "the highly transmissible Delta variant combined with lengthier stays in crowded facilities," NBC News reported.
Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s unclear how many migrants may be bypassing COVID testing screens as they wind their way through the immigration system and are released by Border Patrol. But the El Paso Times revealed Thursday one such example in Laredo.
The Times reported about an agreement between Border Patrol and the city of Laredo in which migrants released by the agency would be put on buses bound for Austin, Dallas and Houston without being tested. A city spokesperson told the Times that the agreement was a result of strained testing capacity.
"If these migrants do test positive, or if any one of them needs care at the hospital, we can’t. We don’t have capacity at the hospital," spokesperson Noraida Negron told the newspaper. "Our NGOs were literally busting at the seams."
During a Newsmax interview, Paxton claimed that federal officials are "not even testing" migrants who are released by Border Patrol into U.S. communities.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said that "100% of noncitizens" are tested for COVID-19 "at some point during their immigration journey," and that this testing is performed by a mix of federal agencies, local governments and non-governmental organizations.
While there are numerous clear examples of testing happening before migrants are released into the U.S., we know of one recent example in which strained testing capabilities led to untested migrants being released. However, the full scope of untested migrants is unknown.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
Tweet, @Newsmax, Aug. 7, 2021
PolitiFact, Ron DeSantis’ effort to blame COVID-19 spread on migrants is short on evidence, Aug. 6, 2021
PolitiFact, What we know about COVID-19 testing for migrants at the southern border, April 12, 2021
PolitiFact, Abbott exaggerates COVID-19 concerns about migrants entering US, March 11, 2021
Emails with a U.S. Department of Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson, Aug. 10-12, 2021
Emails with a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson, Aug. 10-12, 20201
Emails with City of Brownsville spokesperson Felipe Romero, Aug. 12, 2021
Associated Press, EXPLAINER: How do border policies affect US infection rates? Aug. 9, 2021
Austin American-Statesman, Overwhelmed Texas border city sends migrant families to Austin, Dallas, Houston bus stations, Aug. 12, 2021
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