City sues, county judge issues disaster declaration to stop feds from dropping off migrants apprehended elsewhere

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The City of Laredo has sued the federal government to stop it from bussing migrants to the South Texas border city from the Rio Grande Valley. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photo)

PHARR, Texas (Border Report) — A Texas county judge has signed a disaster declaration to stop the U.S. Border Patrol from bringing in busloads of migrants — many infected with the coronavirus — from the Rio Grande Valley.

The disaster declaration issued by Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina took effect Wednesday morning and was issued “to stop migrants from coming into the Laredo sector,” Webb County spokeswoman Marah Mendez told Border Report.

The City of Laredo, the biggest city in Webb County, on Friday afternoon filed a lawsuit in the hopes of getting a temporary restraining order to stop the influx of migrants, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told Border Report on Wednesday.

The actions occurred after Laredo officials last week expressed desperation that a growing number of migrants with coronavirus were being dropped off in Webb County. And it came after DHS officials had said they would stop busing the migrants, but then went back on their word.

The lawsuit apparently got the federal government’s attention and Saenz said they are currently in negotiations. He said federal officials are in Laredo engaging in talks with city and county officials.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz

“We filed a lawsuit Friday for the intention of seeking a temporary restraining order,” Saenz told Border Report. “They said ‘let’s visit over this. We can assure you that no more buses will be traveling to Laredo with migrants.’ So that created that pause. And since then they have been visiting and trying to work something out.”

The overlying concern is that at least 10% of all migrants apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley are testing positive for coronavirus when they are released to non-governmental organizations.

Border Patrol does not test migrants for coronavirus when they’re apprehended. Many border agents are being exposed and potentially infected during the three-hour bus ride to Laredo and are bringing with them the deadly virus that Saenz said Laredo hospitals cannot handle.

Currently, the city’s largest NGO-run migrant shelter remains quarantined due to COVID-19 infections, and Saenz says they have nowhere to put the migrants.

The city already has over 12% of its population currently infected with COVID-19, and as a “medically underserved community,” he said the city’s resources are greatly limited.

“We were basically at the threshold of entering into a crisis,” Saenz said. “They told us they would be doubling the amount of migrants from three buses to six buses daily. Our NGOs that had been dealing with these migrants were at capacity and top of that at least one of them, the primary one, Holding Institute, has been quarantined due to the high number of COVID-19 positives. And on top of that … we have very limited hospital capacity primarily due to lack of staffing. We lost a lot of people due to COVID-19.”

“We were basically at the threshold of entering into a crisis.”

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz

The emergency declaration of disaster that Tijerina signed Tuesday is in effect for a week and prevents the busing of migrants to Webb County, which “has experienced the organized transportation of large numbers of individuals (refugees, immigrants and/or migrants, a significant portion of whom are unvaccinated, untested for the COVID-19 virus and COVID positive),” according to the declaration.

Tijerina’s order states “the unanticipated influx of these individuals has overwhelmed local resources and services.”

The order prevents migrants who have been apprehended from outside the Border Patrol Laredo Sector from being brought to Webb County.

Since the start of July, Laredo-area DHS officials have begun taking in migrants from the Rio Grande Valley as well as Del Rio, Texas area.

The numbers went from three buses per day to six buses carrying upwards of 300 migrants, Saenz said.

The city’s lawsuit was filed against Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Troy Miller, and Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott.

Saenz said Laredo does not have a pediatric intensive care unit and sick migrant children are being sent to San Antonio, which is quite costly.

“It just creates more a predicament and a bad situation for us,” Saenz said. “Whatever arrangement we make it has to hinge on the hospital capacity.”

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