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COVID-19 testing of border-crossing migrants not being administered consistently

Congressman Henry Cuellar (SBG photo).
Congressman Henry Cuellar (SBG photo).
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SAN ANTONIO - COVID-19 testing for migrants crossing at the border in not happening consistently at all locations, according to Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX 28th District).

He says thousands of people who came into the United States recently through the Valley were not tested for the virus.

"Over 10,000 people have come in through the lower Rio Grande Valley. Those folks are not being tested," Cuellar says, "I did ask Border Patrol from the very beginning: 'Are y’all testing?' They said 'no, we’re not testing.'

"If you're sending people out there that are not being tested, then in many ways you are being a little negligent."

Border Patrol disagrees with Cuellar, telling us in a statement it "uses a combination of onsite contract medical personnel and referrals to local health systems to provide medical support for persons in custody who require medical attention.

"CBP personnel conduct initial inspections for symptoms or risk factors associated with COVID-19 and consult with onsite medical personnel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or local health systems as appropriate.

"Onsite medical personnel can provide basic assessment and supportive treatment, but suspected COVID-19 cases are referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis, and treatment.

" These COVID-19 procedures are consistent with longstanding CBP procedures for preventing the spread of communicable diseases.”

The level of testing is apparently more rigorous in cities like El Paso, where all migrants are tested. Anyone found to be positive is sent to quarantine at a hotel.

"Absolutely. they might be doing that in El Paso," Cuellar admits. "In Brownsville they just started doing that recently. In Laredo, the city’s not doing that."

He notes testing is being done south of the border.

"If it’s part of the MPP (Migrant Protection Program), the 25,000, that limited amount, they’re tested on the Mexican side before they come in," Cuellar says.

In some locales, non-government organizations are shouldering the burden. Where testing occurs, another problem has cropped up.

"If somebody tests positive, then they have to go rent a hotel room to put them somewhere else. That costs money. Who’s paying for that?," Cuellar says. "Local government, the local NGOs are carrying the burden of the federal government policies."

He says San Antonio could start seeing an influx of migrants if the numbers start to skyrocket as they did a couple years ago. Now Covid-19 is an added concern.

"Remember what happened in 2019? All the extra folks that were here, where did they go? San Antonio," Cuellar says.

Local facilities we checked with today say they have not seen migrants from the border coming here in recent weeks.

Cuellar maintains it's not a crisis yet but is concerned it might be soon. He cited the May 2019 peak of 144,000 people crossing the border compared to 78,000 in January.

"If the numbers keep going, then I think San Antonio is going to come into play," he says.

Here is a map showing where migrants who were in McAllen were transported by Greyhound from March to June in 2019.

Greyhound CEO David Leach recently sent a letter to Homeland Security, asking for assurances that it will not have to transport anyone who has not tested negative for Covid-19.

That letter is posted below.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was also asked about its policy on Covid-19 testing. A spokesman tells us:

"The Department continues to utilize all available authorities and processes, including the expulsion of individuals apprehended at the border pursuant to CDC authority, to address the ongoing public health challenges. These expulsions may be effected from both CBP and ICE facilities.

"In order to humanely address the current situation along the Southwest Border, ICE continues to evaluate the manner in which it utilizes its existing family residential centers, which remain fully operational, to safely, effectively, and efficiently process and screen families.

"This is not the time to come to the U.S. Southwest Border and attempt to illegally enter the United States. COVID-related travel restrictions remain in place and will be enforced. It will take time to rebuild our asylum process."

Follow Jim Lefko on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.


Greyhound letter

March 3, 2021

The Honorable Alejandro N. Mayorkas


United States Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Mayorkas:

Congratulations on your recent confirmation as Secretary of Homeland Security!

Greyhound has worked with multiple agencies of the Department on issues as varied as intercity bus security, cross-border infrastructure at the Mexican and Canadian borders, and emergency transportation services. I look forward to working closely with you on these issues and more.

Most critically at this time, Greyhound is very concerned about the health and safety of all of our bus passengers and the humane treatment of individuals and families crossing the southern border who need intercity transportation.

During past migration surges in 2018 and 2019, ICE released migrants without advance notice at shelters and Greyhound bus stops/terminals with only paperwork indicating their destinations; they had no tickets.

Like most transportation providers, Greyhound operates a fixed capacity system and we require advanced reservations. Because we sell tickets in advance, we prepare for and provide the resources to service the customers who have bought tickets. While we usually have some capacity for last-minute customers, we cannot guarantee it.

Despite having no advance notice, Greyhound and its regional partners worked with charitable organizations to transport migrants with dignity and humanity by adding extra buses on our routes to ease bottlenecks at transfer terminals across the country to the extent of our resources.

However, despite our best efforts, shelters and terminals experienced overcrowding and there were many instances of significant delays for passengers at the origin of their trip and connections.

As a result of COVID-19, we are anticipating a much more serious challenge if there are any potential migration surges in 2021.

Our top priority is the safety of our employees and passengers. We need assurance that any detainees released by ICE have proof of a negative COVID-19 test, similar to the proof required for international airline passengers who arrive at US ports of entry.

Greyhound already asks our customers to stay home and NOT travel if they are not feeling well or have been diagnosed with COVID. However, migrants simply do not have that choice unless the government or their sponsors house them while they quarantine.

Therefore, it is critical to public safety that ICE provide 100% assurance that no one released that can be reasonably expected to ride a Greyhound bus be infected with COVID-19 (or mixed with other potential passengers that have tested negative).

Greyhound’s service has been decimated by the financial impacts of COVID-19, and our bus and terminal capacities have been restricted by the need to maintain social distancing. This could have a very detrimental impact on our collective ability to transport migrants to their destinations in the U.S., given Greyhound’s vast network of over 1,000 U.S. locations, ranging from all of the largest cities in the U.S. to hundreds of small rural towns.

No other carrier provides service to many of the destinations, and the destinations for migrants extend into every corner of the U.S.

While we have maintained at least minimal service to almost all of our destinations, our total capacity is down 60% vs. pre-COVID.

Attached is a map of the U.S. showing the destinations that we carried migrants released at McAllen to during the immigration surge in 2019. While we still serve many of these destinations, we simply do not have enough seats to accommodate an increase in demand from the southern border to all of these points across our network.

Many drivers, mechanics, customer service employees, and agents have been furloughed as a result of the financial impact. We simply do not have buses and drivers ready to meet surges in demand without emergency funding.

In order to properly serve immigrants coming into the southern border and traveling to their sponsor destination, Greyhound will be operating one-way moves throughout the country and in order to get the resources back (buses and drivers) to the border to continue operations, Greyhound needs funding assistance to cover the costs of repositioning buses and drivers from other parts of the country to wherever they may be needed.

If Greyhound waits for a “full” coach of ticketed passengers to reposition the bus (as it normally would), this will result in individuals waiting at the border locations longer than necessary and the requirement of meeting the needs of these people at the border, whether it be in shelters, terminals, or other locations.

To address these problems, I request that you establish a high-level DHS action team to work with Greyhound to proactively develop solutions before an emergency develops.

If discretionary funding at your disposal is not sufficient to address our concerns, we would like to work with you to support emergency appropriations for your Department to create a discretionary fund that can be used at your command for safe and efficient migrant transportation.

Greyhound stands ready to work with your Department to meet this looming challenge.

Please let us know how it is best to proceed by contacting me at, or Greg Cohen at


David S. Leach, President & CEO

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