A series of alarmist and racist statements and declarations by RGV elected officials — including Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez’s emergency disaster declaration — is fueling the spread of anti-immigrant and COVID-19 misinformation that endangers arriving immigrants and Rio Grande Valley residents alike.
Despite numerous reckless statements by elected officials associating the spread of COVID-19 with arriving immigrants, border communities know first-hand that we can welcome people seeking safety and protection while simultaneously protecting the safety of border communities.
Fact Checking Claims About Covid-19 in Texas
Migrants have a lower COVID-19 positivity rate and a higher willingness to get vaccine than state average.
- * People seeking asylum at the border and who pass credible fear interviews and are permitted to proceed with their asylum cases in the US are the most tested and vaccinated population in Texas. The latest available numbers (page 44 of this court filing) show released migrants continue to test positive at a lower rate than Texas’s statewide rate.
- * Those migrants who need to be vaccinated are volunteering to get them from local public health officials — 90% vaccination rates in one of the largest Texas shelters — and those who require quarantine are being quarantined in shelters and hotels, per CDC guidelines. Records from the Holdings Institute, the primary shelter in Laredo, show nine out of ten of migrants volunteer to receive the vaccine (pages 43-44 of this court filing). In contrast, Texas’ general population has a disappointingly low vaccination rate: just 44%.
- * Migrants at the border in Texas make up a tiny percentage of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Texas, a state with low vaccination rates.
- * In March, the acting head of FEMA said that COVID-19 tests of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border had a positivity rate of less than 6% — less than the overall rate in Texas at the same time. While rates among migrants have increased since then, so have the rates throughout the state, due to the Delta Variant’s high transmissibility.
- Texas’ overall COVID-19 positive rate is climbing, thanks to lagging vaccination rates and Gov Abbott’s lifting of restrictions.
- * The problem with COVID-19 in Texas is that Texans and our leaders are not vaccinating at high enough rates and taking other precautions to protect each other from COVID-19. And in many cases, our leaders in local communities and in Austin are hurting, not helping.
- * Texas COVID-19 positivity rate has increased, jumping to 16.9% as of July 31. That is after Governor Abbott lifted all restrictions — including mask mandates and local governments’ ability to impose their own restrictions. The state’s vaccination rate continues to lag behind the national average.
- * In March, Governor Abbott rejected a DHS offer to mobilize FEMA funds to support the testing and isolation needs of migrant children, families, and adults at the Texas-Mexico border.
- * Governor Abbott’s most recent anti-immigrant order taking aim at local governments and nongovernmental organizations that give rides to migrants released from processing came down even as he issued another order banning government agencies from requiring individuals to get vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination. He also banned public or private entities who receive state funding from requiring employees to get vaccinated or clients to provide proof of vaccination.
- * Gov. Abbott is taking enormous political fire nationally (see here, here, and here) for his failure to protect Texas, his efforts to undermine common sense public health measures, and the naked politics of turning around trying to blame migrants who are seeking asylum and those of us in RGV communities. And rightly so.
- * Abbott’s most recent anti-immigrant state policy was overturned by District Judge Kathleen Cardone, a Republican appointee, who wrote that the order “causes irreparable injury to the United States and to individuals the United States is charged with protecting, jeopardizing the health and safety of non-citizens in federal custody, risking the safety of federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.”
- * As an editorial in the Austin American Statesman said, “You can’t win a war when you’re fighting the wrong enemy. But that is what Gov. Greg Abbott is doing as COVID-19 sends an alarming number of Texans into hospital beds and early graves.” We agree.
The “Us vs Them” rhetoric puts us all at risk
- * The virus knows no borders. As long as the pandemic rages, we are all at risk of variants that become more difficult to control.
- * In the RGV, we have an opportunity to give arriving migrants the care they need before they reunite with family and loved ones elsewhere.
* Humanitarian shelters along the border are providing migrants in their care with testing, vaccines, and, for those who test positive, space to isolate until they are COVID-free. These practices, including contracting with hotels where individuals and families can isolate, are in line with recommendations of public health experts.
- * Subjecting arriving migrants to detention and expulsion only supercharges the spread of the virus. Physicians for Human Rights explains: “[E]very aspect of the expulsion process, such as holding people in crowded conditions for days without testing and then transporting them in crowded vehicles, increases the risk of spreading and being exposed to COVID-19.”
- RGV elected officials must recognize that we protect and care for RGV residents by protecting and caring for arriving migrants.
- As Daniel Diaz, Director of Community Organizing for La Unión de Pueblo Entero, said: “For generations, border communities have welcomed newcomers seeking protection and a dignified life. And for generations, opportunistic politicians have tried to paint immigrants as a threat to public health and safety. We refuse to abandon the values that make the Rio Grande Valley unique when emotions run high and politicians attack. If elected officials frustrated by lack of support from the federal government turn their frustration on arriving immigrants, they abandon their responsibility to work for solutions. And if they attack arriving immigrants to distract from their own failures to keep the state safe, that is despicable. We need RGV elected officials to fight to end Gov. Abbott’s attacks on border communities and push President Biden to transition the border from a militarized zone to one where all are welcomed with dignity.”
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by John-Michael Torres, communications coordinator for La Unión Del Pueblo Entero. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Torres can be reached by email via: [email protected]
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows John-Michael Torres. (Photo credit: Carson Frame/American Homefront)
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