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Gov. Greg Abbott Doubles Down Against Federal COVID-19 Aid For Migrants At The Border

Gov. Greg Abbott
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Gov. Greg Abbott visited Mission, Texas, to address the rising number of migrants arriving at the border and federal immigration policy changes.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited Mission, Texas, on Tuesday to address the rising number of migrants arriving at the border and federal immigration policy changes.

Abbott spoke after being briefed by Border Patrol and law enforcement in the Rio Grande Valley, a high entry point for migrants.

He detailed the state’s increased law enforcement presence in the area and once again critiqued President Joe Biden and his administration for allowing some asylum-seeking families and children into the country.

“We will work to step up and try to fill the gap that the federal government is leaving open by making sure we deploy every resource, whether it be Texas Department Public Safety, national guard, whatever we need to do, Texas is going to fight for the safety and security of our state,” he said.

But he also doubled-down against a Biden administration plan to reimburse border communities for the costs of helping test and quarantine migrants released by federal authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The federal government has the responsibility to fund the testing of anybody coming here who does have COVID and it is ICE, not the state of Texas who is responsible for administering those tests,” he said.

His remarks came a day after Texas Democratic lawmakers urged him to sign off on the plan to allocate FEMA funds to border communities.

Abbott rejected the plan last week after criticizing the Biden administration for “recklessly releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants who have COVID into Texas communities.”

| Related: 'Hypocrisy At Its Finest' — How Greg Abbott's Stance On Immigration Changed In 20 Years |

“Your recent comments about asylum-seekers carrying COVID-19 into Texas ring hollow when you are the one standing in the way of sorely needed federal resources and ultimately is the same dangerous rhetoric fueling white supremacist attacks on immigrant and minority communities,” the Texas Democratic Congressional Delegation said in a letter.

Abbott previously said he would not participate in a program that “makes our country a magnet of illegal immigration," but the state of Texas has already sent 40,000 COVID-19 tests to Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo and Del Rio since late January, the Texas Tribune reported.

On Tuesday, he also said the Biden administration is not vaccinating Border Patrol employees.

“The Biden administration should surge vaccines to Texas to all men and women to the Border Patrol this week, and ensure that every Border Patrol officer in the state of Texas will be vaccinated this week. Anything less than that is the epitome of inhumanity,” he said.

But concerns over the vaccinations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officers predate the Biden administration, and in early January, Congressman Henry Cuellar announced they could seek vaccines from local governments or from the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Abbott also called on the Biden administration to invest in more immigration judges and to ramp up Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s role in the area.

“One thing that is clear from all the observations and all the information I’ve been able to gather is we need more ICE detention facilities in this area immediately,” he said.

The Biden administration has planned to repurpose two of its South Texas detention centers for families in Dilley and Karnes into COVID-19 screening centers, according to reports.

But some immigration advocates have also criticized the administration for not quickly shutting down all ICE detention centers and for opening other temporary tent facilities for migrants.

Border residents and activists pushed back on Abbott’s characterization of the border undergoing a “crisis.”

“We live here. We know there is no emergency on the border,” said Tricia Cortez, a co-founder of the No Border Wall Coalition in Laredo. “If people want to line up at the border to apply for asylum, that is exactly what U.S. law requires and permits them to do. We need lawyers and proper infrastructure at our ports of entry to accommodate that, not troops.”

Advocates also called out his visit as a distraction from his handling of the winter storm last month and his recent decision to do away with the state’s mask mandate and COVID-19 restrictions.

“Instead of offering solutions, all we get is fear mongering,” said Norma Herrera of RGV Equal Voice. “We need real leadership that is attuned to the true needs of Texans and can offer a transformative vision that ensures our communities can move beyond crises and actually thrive.”

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María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria