On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted that COVID-positive migrants are not being released into Texas- after Gov. Greg Abbott said the Biden administration is releasing illegal immigrants into the state’s communities.
Her denial comes after a report on Wednesday that 108 migrants in Brownsville, Texas, have tested positive for the coronavirus following their arrival. Psaki, asked about Abbott’s comments during the White House briefing Thursday, replied that the Republican governor’s claims are inaccurate. “We’re about facts around here; that is not factual,” Psaki said.
Describing how migrants are processed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Psaki defended the administration’s policies: “When migrants are placed in alternatives to detention, their COVID-19 testing, our policy, is for COVID-19 testing to be done at the state and local level, and with the help of NGOs and local governments,” she said.
Psaki added that is “concluded before they are even moved to stay with family members or others they may know while their cases are being adjudicated.”
Psaki added that the administration’s guidance to anyone, “regardless of status” testing positive for COVID-19, or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms is “to social distance, to wear a mask, and to seek medical attention as needed.”
“But in general, our approach and our policy is to work with local governments and NGOs to have testing, to ensure these migrants are tested,” Psaki continued. “And that can take place, and that steps for isolation, quarantine and medical care can be taken should that be needed.”
Psaki was pressed on why the testing was the responsibility of the state and local governments, and not the federal government.
“Many of the NGOs have stepped in to ensure these steps can be taken,” she replied, adding that “if quarantining or self-isolation is needed, they have even reserved hotel blocks” if necessary.
“Their assistance allows the federal government to work with local communities to get this done,” Psaki said.
Psaki’s comments come after Abbott said that the Biden administration is “releasing illegal immigrants into our communities who had COVID.”
“The Biden administration was spreading COVID in South Texas yesterday because of their lack of constraint of testing and quarantining people who come across the border illegally,” Abbott said. “The Biden administration was exposing Texans to COVID. That is a Neanderthal-type approach to dealing with the COVID situation.”
Abbott’s comments came after President Biden criticized Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi Wednesday, accusing them of “Neanderthal thinking” following their decision to reverse COVID safety policies, including mask mandates.
Meanwhile, Psaki addressed the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border of the U.S., and questions of whether new Health and Human Services facilities would be established—after reports than 96% of HHS beds are already accounted for.
Psaki did not confirm specific numbers, but said, there are “of course a large number of unaccompanied minors coming across the border.”
“We believe the humane approach is to treat these kids with humanity and ensure that they have a safe way to be,” Psaki said, while adding that she does not have a preview of what considerations are currently underway. “Obviously, we recognize with the number coming in and the limited facilities we have, and our desire to abide by COVID protocols, that it is a policy process that is imperative, and a priority, for this administration,” Psaki said.
Axios reported that Health and Human Services are nearing full capacity at the border, and Border Patrol referred an average of 321 children per day to HHS custody — up from 47 a day in the first week of January.
It’s the latest indication of a surge at the border. The Biden administration has opened a new HHS facility for unaccompanied minors in Carrizo Springs, Texas, and is opening two new Customs and Border Protection migrant facilities to handle the influx, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.