Border County Sounds New COVID Alarm as CBP Looks to Ease Enforcement

The chief health officer in Cameron County, Texas, is warning that a new strain of COVID-19 is coming to America’s southern border. Dr. James Castillo hasn’t confirmed the immediate source of the virulent Delta variant, but his Brownsville office is directly across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Mexico.

Unhelpfully, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is pursuing plans to cancel the public health order that authorizes Border Patrol officers to turn back migrant families.

“Certainly there’s a risk that occurs with the suspension of Title 42,” CBP chief Raul Ortiz admits. But he inexplicably blamed the public health provision for families attempting repeated illegal border crossings, rather than the Biden administration’s policies that make it clear that anyone who eludes apprehension will be allowed to remain. Expulsions happen so quickly, Ortiz said, that many simply try again, knowing that perseverance will be rewarded.

Texas officials see the situation differently. The state is suing the Biden administration, alleging that COVID-infected border crossers are being allowed into the country en masse. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton charged that catch-and-release policies are causing “irreparable harm.”

Citing CBP’s limited use of Title 42 – it is applied to only about half of migrant family units and not at all to unaccompanied children — the lawsuit says Department of Homeland Security statistics prove the agency does not “meaningfully enforce the plain requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act” to assess whether aliens carry communicable diseases.

A group of Republican congressmen amplified those concerns in a letter to the administration last week. The lawmakers warned that scrapping Title 42 would be “disastrous … leading to lasting and irreparable consequences.”

Curiously, officials in Cameron have declined to join 28 other South Texas counties in declaring a border disaster. Such declarations enable localities to obtain reimbursements and other material aid from the state as they feel the effects of the ongoing flood of illegal aliens.

Coronavirus is among the ill effects. On a per capita basis, Cameron County’s COVID caseload and death rates are more than 10 times higher than Travis County’s (Austin), some 350 miles to the north.

With a new variant on the way, lackadaisical border enforcement facilitates the spread of disease, and makes Cameron County a sick canary in the mineshaft. It’s an unhealthy contradiction for an administration now discussing a plan to re-impose mask mandates across America.

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