EDINBURG, Texas – The number of asylum seekers with Covid-19 being dropped off in Hidalgo County has increased to such an extent that it has now become a local state of disaster.

That is the view of Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez. On Monday, Cortez signed a local state of disaster declaration. 

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

A news release from Cortez’s office said he was signing the disaster declaration “because of the growing threat of COVID-19 that may be present among the ongoing surge of migrants seeking asylum and being released in Hidalgo County.”

The declaration is effective immediately and remains in effect for seven days. The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court must vote to extend the disaster after seven days.

Cortez’s office was quick to point out that the two-page declaration is different from a disaster proclamation issued by Governor Greg Abbott on May 31, 2021.

“Governor’s Abbott’s declaration targets those illegally entering the United States and trying to remain in the country without authorization,” the Cortez news release states.

“Judge Cortez’ declaration on Monday focuses on the large numbers of migrants who are legally in this country after having applied for asylum and getting permission by federal officials to remain in the United States until their asylum claims are heard in immigration courts.”

Cortez said: “The current situation can be confusing because of the complexity of existing immigration laws. 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 noted that Hidalgo County is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases and now has a hospitalization rate in excess of 18 percent. Governor Abbott has declared that a rate in excess of 15 percent is considered a high hospitalization rate.

“My order declares that extraordinary measures must be taken,” Cortez said.“We must change current immigration laws and existing policies to slow the volume of migrants seeking asylum,” Cortez said. “Until those laws and policies are changed, we must increase local capacity to safely accommodate these migrants legally seeking asylum.”

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

Here is a copy of Judge Cortez’s disaster declaration:

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Hidalgo County Judge Cortez signing a disaster declaration with Hidalgo County Judge Chief of Staff Issac Sulemana as a witness. (Photo courtesy of Hidalgo County Judge’s Office)

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