MCALLEN, Texas – A former McAllen mayoral candidate said the collective will of local residents persuaded the city’s leadership to discontinue a shelter setup for asylum seekers carrying Covid-19.
Othal Brand, Jr., said a temporary facility was assembled within 1,000 feet of his company’s office on 23rd Street in McAllen, across the street from Buddy Owens Boulevard. He said protests from local residents ensured the shelter was hastily dismantled and moved to Anzalduas Park in south Mission.
“I understood why the City of McAllen felt the need to open a shelter. But not smack in the middle of town. You have got to be kidding me,” Brand said.
Brand praised local residents for protesting on the street outside the city-owned facility.
“It was a group effort. We wanted the City to know it was not a good idea to have it here. They were telling us they were not allowing any of the people to leave the facility. But that was not good enough. My girls did not want to come to work. They were that scared,” Brand said.
“When I left work at 5:30, they were setting up the the air conditioning, the generators, the lighting, water, bathrooms, all portable. By the end day of the next day, they were moving the immigrants out. By the next morning, it was all gone.”
Brand said he played a role in garnering the attention of national TV networks.
“There were a couple of hundred of migrants in there at first. But, you knew that would grow. It was a group effort, the demonstrations. We had a lot of concerned citizens that came out to see if for themselves. They could not believe it. Every news media that could be called was called. To make them aware of it. Within an hour of contacting them, I was on Fox. Hannity had a camera crew here and was live. Before they had finished the show the city had decided to move it. All the city commissioners were called by multiple people.”
Asked what he said on Fox, Brand said: “I told them we had a bunch of congressmen come down here a few months ago. They asked me what the biggest problem was on the border. I said, the federal government.”
Brand has a unique perspective on the migrant crisis for two reasons. One, he runs a charity that assists unaccompanied minors that have crossed the Rio Grande. Working with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, he currently has about 600 unaccompanied minors staying at a retreat in Harlingen. He said there are 27 similar facilities around the nation.
The other reason Brand is in a unique position to comment on the current migrant surge is that he is president of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3. His workers at the pump station in Hidalgo see on average 100 to 200 migrants a day coming on to the water district property.
“They are seeking asylum. All they want is for someone to pick them up,” Brand said.
Brand said his workers are sometimes asked by the migrants to open the border wall gates. He said they always refuse. “They are crossing the river all hours of the day and night.”
Brand has erected cameras on the water district property so Border Patrol can view suspicious activity. He said he works closely with the agency.
“I can tell you, Border Patrol agents are totally demoralized. They cannot do their job. Covid is hitting them hard. They have a lot that are home under a 14-day watch. How can you protect yourself from the virus if you are having to put them (migrants) in your van and take them to the station?”
Brand said he has been told that there are currently eight hotels in the Valley that have been commandeered to house Covid-19 infected asylum seekers. He said he has some sympathy with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which is providing meals and a change of clothes to asylum seekers that have been booked in by Border Patrol. He said he also has sympathy for the City of McAllen.
“They are having to deal with something the federal government should be handling. I understand why they thought they did not need to tell local residents what they were doing: because they would get a bunch of pushback, which is what they got. I understand why they are setting up the shelters – because the sheer numbers are surpassing the ability of planes and buses to get them out of here. But to put the shelter in the middle of McAllen, Texas, you know there has to be a better option. Somewhere on the outskirts, which is what they ended up doing.”
Brand ran unsuccessfully for mayor of McAllen in this year’s elections. Asked what he would have done differently, had he won the mayorship, Brand said: “Truthfully, I had issues with this when it first started. But, I was quick to realize that there had to be some kind of order. If they (the asylum seekers) have the ability to leave, let’s get them out of here as fast as possible. The problem now is they cannot get out of here fast enough because there are not enough buses or planes. Some are leaving with the virus and going north. I would have never put a shelter in the middle of McAllen. I would have found somewhere on the outskirts. Anzalduas Park is an isolated area. That is great. They are not going to go wandering into a neighborhood.”
Brand said he has been told that an average of 6,000 would-be asylum seekers are crossing the Rio Grande south of Anzalduas Dam a day. He said the number passed 10,000 on one day recently. The projection, he said, is that the average will double by the end of August.
“Most of them are brought over on boats by the cartels. They love Biden. They are making a bundle of money. There is one man who can fix this and he will not do it,” Brand said, referring to President Biden.
“This is not American. There is nothing American about this. This is not looking after your people. If he (Biden) wants to be president of some world organization, go ahead. Yesterday I said something I have never said in my life before. My compassion has gone. When it has come to a situation where it is a threat to those that live in the country, my compassion is gone. We are literally being overrun. The hotels and shelters have illegals from 30 different countries, or more.”
Asked if he had any other thoughts on the matter, Brand said, yes. “I am in the middle of all this but feeling totally helpless about it. What is going on is unfathomable. It is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. That my own government would allow this. No borders. You are going to make us like another third world country.”
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