Fact Check: Are COVID-Positive Migrants Allowed to Cross Southern Border Into U.S.?

Since President Joseph Biden took office in January and began rolling back Trump-era immigration policies, many lawmakers feared an influx of migrants and asylum-seekers would overwhelm the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a press conference Monday, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said that there was no crisis at the border.

"I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing, and we have our resources dedicated to managing it," Mayorkas said.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insists that there’s no crisis at the border despite the thousands of illegal crossings a dayhttps://t.co/uj5PWgVLDx pic.twitter.com/07gKBcdc7K

— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) March 1, 2021

The Claim

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, some people fear that migrants are spreading the virus as they move from the southern border to cities across the country.

Representative Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) accused the Biden administration of hurting "law-abiding" Americans by allowing COVID-positive migrants to illegally cross the border.

Allowing COVID positive migrants to illegally cross the border is a huge slap in the face to Americans who have had their businesses closed and their lives upended.

Under this regime, the worst thing you can be is a law-abiding American citizen.

— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) March 4, 2021

The Facts

In a series of executive orders, Biden paused the construction of the southern border wall, offered permanent protection for young migrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, known as "Dreamers" and created a task force to reunite migrant families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by Trump's 2018 "zero-tolerance" border strategy.

According to Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the United States Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley Sector has apprehended 10,000 migrants in the past seven days. He said we are "weeks, maybe even days, away from a crisis at the southern border."

"Our country is currently unprepared to handle a surge in migrants in the middle of the pandemic," Cuellar said in a statement to Newsweek. "Migrants are illegally crossing, potentially exposing border communities to the coronavirus and putting us at risk."

Whether migrants are tested for COVID-19 depends on their immigration category.

Individuals waiting on immigration proceedings in Mexico as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) are tested by United Nations officials for COVID-19 before entering the United States. Migrants are taken to a staging area, where they must test negative in order to cross the border at a port of entry.

MPP is a Trump-era program that forces migrants who arrive at the Southwest border to return to Mexico to wait during their U.S. immigration proceedings. There are about 25,000 individuals in the MPP program with pending cases before the Executive Office of Immigration Review, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS suspended new enrollment into the program on January 21, 2021.

According to DHS, "those who test positive will be supported by facilitating organizations to isolate and/or seek treatment in line with the policy of the relevant local health authority in Mexico. Following isolation and screening, such an individual will again be eligible for facilitated arrival at a designated port of entry."

New arrivals at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities also are tested within 12 hours of arrival and are separated from the rest of the population in the facilities to prevent potential transmission.

"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," an ICE spokesman said in a statement to Newsweek.

The catch-and-release migrants are tested at the La Plaza Bus Terminal upon being dropped off by U.S. Customs & Border Protection. The migrants who test positive at La Plaza Bus Terminal are advised of quarantine procedures and are asked to socially distance.
Brownsville, Texas, spokesman Felipe Romero

Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers do not test the migrants they apprehend.

According to a CPB spokesperson, "CBP personnel conduct initial inspections for symptoms or risk factors associated with COVID-19 and consult with onsite medical personnel."

Suspected COVID-19 cases are then referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis and treatment.

Cuellar said migrants dropped off at bus stations by Border Patrol agents are likely not tested before they leave to other cities. There is currently no system in place to keep track of whether migrants get tested for COVID-19 once they leave DHS custody.

"Once the Border Patrol releases them, then they have the notice to appear [at immigration case hearing] and they can go anywhere in the U.S.," Cuellar said.

Greyhound Lines bus company said in a statement to Newsweek that it sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and requested assistance with a potential surge of migrants at the border.

The border town of Brownsville, Texas, sees a lot of migrants come through its La Plaza Bus Terminal.

Since January 25, there have been 108 migrants who tested positive for COVID-19, which is a 6.3 percent positivity rate, according to Brownsville spokesman Felipe Romero. The positivity rate for Cameron County is 13.8 percent.

Romero confirms that MPP individuals seeking asylum are tested for COVID-19 on the Mexican side of the border in Matamoros and must test negative to be allowed to cross.

He said Brownsville follows all guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Department of State Health Service for COVID-19 and tests other migrants released by federal officials once they arrive in town.

"The catch-and-release migrants are tested at the La Plaza Bus Terminal upon being dropped off by U.S. Customs & Border Protection," Romero told Newsweek. "The migrants who test positive at La Plaza Bus Terminal are advised of quarantine procedures and are asked to socially distance. There are several NGOs providing resources to those who test positive."

NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations, and other nonprofit organizations provide testing and locations to quarantine for migrants out of their own pocket.

Cuellar said some towns test migrants for COVID-19, but he is "not seeing border towns broadly testing."

He added that unaccompanied minors are turned over to Health and Human Services and likely tested, while families with children under age 13 released by CBP with a note to appear in court might be tested by an NGO. Adults and families with older children who are apprehended by CBP are returned across the border under Title 42 and likely not tested.

The Ruling

Half True.

Some migrants are tested before crossing the border. Those seeking entry through MPP must test negative in order to enter the country.

However, migrants picked up by CPB might not have been tested prior to crossing the border illegally. Since CBP officials will not test migrants, that task is left mostly to NGOs.

There currently is no system in place to track if migrants have been tested after they leave NGO shelters or CBP custody.

U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas
U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas John Moore/Getty Images