Denver Newsroom, Jul 30, 2021 / 14:02 pm (CNA).
Catholic entities helping migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border responded this week after the Texas governor restricted who could transport migrants following their release from federal custody.
On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an order restricting transportation of migrants to law enforcement personnel only. While the order will not prevent law enforcement officers from transporting migrants, it will affect volunteers’ ability to give migrants rides to and from shelters and quarantine sites.
Abbott, who is Catholic, cited pandemic-related concerns as the basis for his order.
Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley said in response that their precautions against COVID-19 are rigorous, and that the new order will make it harder for people of good will to help migrants “who have been given permission to be in the United States.”
The order, which Abbott issued July 28, mandates that “no person, other than a federal, state, or local law-enforcement official, shall provide ground transportation to a group of migrants who have been detained by [Customs and Border Protection] for crossing the border illegally.”
Abbott ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to stop or impound “any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion of such violation and reroute such vehicles back to its point of origin or a port of entry.”
Abbott said he issued the order out of concern for the coronavirus pandemic. He wrote that “busloads of migrants, an unknown number of whom are infected with COVID-l9, are being transported to communities across the State of Texas.”
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, said the new order gave her “great sadness,” and urged its reversal.
Located on the Mexican-U.S. border, McAllen is a hub for immigrants, and concerns have been expressed by locals about the transient population of asylum seekers and other immigrants in the town.
Federal law enforcement officers drop migrants off at Catholic Charities’ downtown McAllen facility, where they are tested for COVID-19. The respite center, which is staffed by volunteers, mainly offers food, showers, and basic necessities; it has changed locations several times since 2014.
Pimentel noted that migrants who test positive for COVID-19, as well as their families, are placed in local hotels at Catholic Charities’ expense to recover in isolation.
“All this has been done to protect our communities from COVID while simultaneously protecting and caring for the [migrant] family, who needs assistance,” she wrote.
“At no time have the COVID positive immigrant families been walking around exposing others in the community. They are kept in isolation until they test negative.”
In his order, Abbott specifically mentioned a recent incident in La Joya, Texas. Local police had been called in response to a migrant family who were eating in a local restaurant and who “appeared to be sick,” MyRGV News reported. The migrant family told the police they were quarantining at a nearby hotel after testing positive for COVID-19.
Pimentel called the La Joya incident “an isolated case” that has led to “a great deal of misinformation.”
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville on Wednesday contested the governor’s characterization of the migrants helped by local Catholic Charities as “illegal.”
“Catholic Charities RGV assists families who are referred to us by Border Patrol, a Federal entity,” he noted on Twitter.
“How can the Governor’s order identify them as ‘illegal’ and how does looking for them not constitute racial profiling of persons legally in the US?” he asked.
Governor Abbott has declined to aid the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in its effort to house thousands of migrant children amid a surge at the border.
In a letter to HHS director Xavier Becerra, Abbott cited hastily-erected emergency federal facilities as justification for withdrawing state support of the federal effort to house migrant children. Abbott has also pledged to continue building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Confidential data obtained by the Associated Press shows the number of migrant children in government custody more than doubled from April to May of 2021. In April, border authorities encountered 18,890 unaccompanied minors – an all-time high.
Abbott plans to revoke the licenses of any shelter in the state that houses migrant children beginning Aug. 31, Politico reported. The May 31 declaration is set to strip the licenses of at least six Catholic Charities agencies, including CCRGV, meaning they may have to close.
If the state’s Catholic Charities agencies lose their license and are forced to close, two of the state’s bishops have said that hundreds of Texas-born children will be transferred to the state’s foster care system which is already stressed.
In a video published on April 6, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones – known for falsely claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax – alleged that a man driving a car with migrant children outside a Catholic Charities humanitarian center in McAllen, Texas, was “smuggling” the children.
In response, Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley said the video was “inaccurate and unauthorized,” stating the video in fact shows “families and children peacefully entering the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen.”